Report: Fresh MENA graduates not ready to work yet

High rates of youth unemployment across the MENA region have been well-documented

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High rates of youth unemployment across the MENA region have been well-documented (23% in the Middle East and 24% in North Africa, compared with the global average of 13%), a new study conducted in collaboration with Injaz Al-Arab, – the Middle East’s leading job site, and YouGov – a global market research leader – as a part of the Injaz Al-Arab ‘Expand Your Horizon’ initiative which attempts to combat the high levels of youth unemployment in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

The issue was once again highlighted in research conducted amongst youth across the region, where just under one-third (29%) of young people surveyed were unemployed graduates.


This figure was even more accentuated among young women (43% of those surveyed were unemployed graduates) and fresh graduates (59% of 18-24 year olds were unemployed).

“The study demonstrated that many young people across the region had never considered alternative sectors such as hospitality, aviation and media as viable career options. Through this survey, we aimed to gain a better understanding of the decision-making process among youth when selecting a degree or a career. Results suggested youth’s lack of consideration for a wider range of sectors is often related to lack of information and knowledge. The findings highlight the need for an awareness campaign among youth in the region to inform them of the wide range of opportunities available in these sectors and come to further reinforce our commitment to bridging the gap between young talent and successful and lasting employment in the MENA region,” said Joao Neves, Senior Director for Education and Human Resources research, YouGov.

Uncovering Arab youth’s perception of job opportunities and their readiness for employment, the results indicate that young people across the region are leaving higher education unprepared to enter the workforce, with 80% of fresh graduates claiming college did not help them identify or apply for suitable job opportunities.

Surveying employed and unemployed graduates and current students across 19 MENA countries, the research revealed that certain sectors in the region are also often overlooked by Arab youth. Indeed, most respondents claimed to be unsure about the availability of jobs particularly in hospitality, aviation and media.

Overall, two-thirds of respondents claimed to have insufficient knowledge to consider a career in the hospitality, aviation and media sectors and less than half believed they provided good opportunities for career enhancement. The results suggest youth across the region is not aware of the breadth of opportunities available to them in those sectors, with just 12% expecting job growth within aviation, 24% expecting growth within media and 25% expecting growth within hospitality. Needless to say those sectors were also particularly unpopular in which to forge a career, with just 3% of fresh graduates citing their willingness to work in each sector respectively.

In contrast, the majority of respondents still believed that traditional, more well-established sectors such as construction (expected growth – 42%) and gas/energy and petrochemicals (expected growth – 35%) provide the best employment prospects. This ‘old-fashioned’ focus is giving them a very limited and limiting view of their opportunities.

The research suggested young people’s education choices as well as the region’s education system are not helping ‘combat’ the current unemployment crisis, with less than one-third (31%) of respondents claiming to have selected their degree based on the perceived career opportunities in that field. Instead, the largest proportion (48%) chose a field of study that best fitted their career goals. Just 17% selected a degree because it matched their strengths.

When deciding on a job, salary (59%) and long-term career prospects (46%) were amongst the most important aspects influencing students’ and graduates’ decisions. Salary seemed to be of higher importance for men (61%) than women (54%).

Ultimately, the results highlight the need for an awareness campaign targeted at youth to better align their perceptions and expectations with the ‘reality’ on the ground. When speaking with graduates and job seekers about the new growth sectors, the ‘competitive salaries’ and ‘strong long term career prospects’ in these industries should be emphasized since these emerged as the main drivers of job choice.

This article first appeared in Saudi Gazette on February 2, 2016.

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