Experts: Middle East short of vocational, job specific skills

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Experts in the educational and recruitment sectors say that fresh graduates in the Middle East lack vocational, job-specific skills.

The Arab world suffers from an “education system that still does not put sufficient emphasis on technical, market-relevant skills,” noted the Swiss-based International Labor Organization in this year’s report on global employment trends.

Additionally, research conducted earlier this year by the online recruitment website indicated that 20 percent of professionals in the Middle East and North Africa blame their education system for being ill-prepared for the current job market.

“This is seen as a major impediment to career growth, as education and professional training are necessary to thrive in an increasingly competitive global arena,” said Suhail Masri, vice president of sales at Bayt.

Perhaps even more depressing is the result of another survey conducted by the recruitment firm two years ago, which showed that only 7.6 percent of respondents attributed their career success to a good education.

Patrick Daru, senior skills and employability specialist at the Beirut-based branch of the International Labor Organization said many firms in the region experience relatively unskilled graduates in entry-level positions.

“Employers in the region are constantly complaining about the lack of skills, specifically, the lack of skills that are valid for all jobs, what other people would call “life” skills for instance – communication, team building, and self-discipline,” Daru told Al Arabiya.

A Dubai-based recruitment specialist also noted the importance of “transferable” skills, which refer to the skills gathered in previous jobs, volunteer work or hobbies and can be used in your next career.

“In this era of high employment turnover and mobility, your transferable skills are the arsenal that ensures your marketability, increases your professional competitive advantage and eases your transition into any new role,” said Masri.

Daru notes the existence of a skills gap among graduates, with many being under qualified and others with too high a level of education than is necessary.

“For the top-level skills, very often the jobs are not there. So it’s more of a question of the demand side than the supply side,” said Daru.

Although regional employers note an absence of relevant skills, many do not allocate sufficient resources into training their staff, according to Daru.

“On one hand, they complain about the lack of the skills, but on the other hand, they do not train people to improve their skills,” he said.

The expert believes that narrowing the skills gap is a regional challenge necessary to bring the region’s economy to a more advanced level.

“What are the companies in the region that have actually a clear vision of how they will increase their productivity in the future?”

As a solution to the skill-gaps problem, Daru said the Arab region should seek to adopt apprenticeship systems, along with other tertiary levels of education including technical training institutes, which are common in parts of Europe.

“An apprenticeship is not only for low-skilled people. These should be regular programs and an opportunity to students for [gaining] tertiary education,” said the expert.

Daru also noted that the region’s universities need to integrate what he called practical, transferrable “life” skills into their courses of study.

“It doesn’t make a lot of sense that [vocational, skill-based] programs are available after university for the graduates, they should be mainstream within the existing curricula,” said the expert.

Earlier this month, one UAE-based online jobs portal began offering online courses to meet what its CEO and co-founder calls a “dire” need for vocational skills in the region.

“Graduates need to polish up their skills. It’s not just enough for our company just to post jobs in, say, digital marketing, we need to teach the skills as well,” said Iba Masood, CEO of Gradberry, an online recruitment startup.

“Employers want graduates who have already taken courses and understand skills such as digital marketing and search engine optimization,” she added.

Lance de Masi, President of UAE-based American University in Dubai, said his university is putting emphasis on programs that blend theory and professional skill, with all courses given skill-based outcomes that must be completed.

But having the right skills is just part of what is needed to be successful, De Masi said.

“With all the emphasis on skill, however, let's not forget that a successful professional is someone with a positive work ethic and a high quotient of emotional intelligence. Rigor, discipline and experience with diversity are key factors in the achievement of these attributes,” he said.

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