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Young Arabs need skills, not just university degrees

Young Arabs need to look at the needs of the market and act accordingly

Yara al-Wazir

Published: Updated:

Young university graduates in the Middle East are up to three times more likely to be unemployed than their uneducated counterparts, a recent report by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has revealed. In simple terms it sounds as though Arabs are too good for the jobs on offer in the region - they are simply over-skilled. Yet the issue of employment, or lack thereof, of young people in the Middle East and North Africa is deeper.

The Middle East and North African region is notorious for its high level of youth unemployment. With young people making up over 40% of the population, the unemployment rate sits at a whopping 28.2% for the Middle East, and 30.5% for North Africa –well above the global average.

What is perhaps more worrying is that the ILO does not predict the numbers will improve. The forecast for female unemployment is to remain relatively stable for the Middle East, and increase in North Africa.

The forecast shows that the graduate job market is going to remain difficult to break into. This is largely because university enrolment is growing faster than demand for graduates in the workplace.

Young Arabs need to look at the needs of the market and act accordingly, rather than expect the market to react to their needs

Yara al-Wazir

The Middle East is still developing – it doesn’t need millions of engineering graduates, because relative to the population in the region, there are too few manufacturing businesses. The Gulf boom in the early 2000’s saw skyscrapers growing at an unsustainable rate. Although these towers may have inspired young people to go to university, they did not promise them jobs.

In order to break into the workforce, young Arabs need to look at the needs of the market and act accordingly, rather than expect the market to react to their needs, expectations, and idealistic lifestyle wishes.

In the Middle East, there is a stigma around low-skilled jobs. The ILO figures show us that there is a need now more than ever to get over this stigma. People get jobs because they have the right skills, not simply because they have a degree. If it’s a question of university followed by unemployment, or the equivalent time spent ‘skilling up’ but then getting hired, the answer is simple.

Skills need to be developed from a young age – these include going out of your comfort zone, becoming more adaptable to change, and building experiences. Often, young graduates find themselves in a ‘catch-22’– they can’t get a job until they have the experience, and they can’t gain experience because no company is offering them a job.

Therefore development and work experience must begin early – starting in your 20s is too late. In an increasingly competitive workplace, you can’t afford to be left behind.

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Yara al Wazir is a humanitarian activist. She is the founder of The Green Initiative ME and a developing partner of Sharek Stories. She can be followed and contacted on twitter @YaraWazir

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.