Training youths to fit MidEast job market ‘time-critical’, say experts


The Middle East youth unemployment epidemic is showing little sign of abating.

According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), one in five young people under 25 are jobless and have no skills. Of all the geopolitical and geo-economic storms facing the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), youth unemployment is the most pressing.

Half the population of MENA is under 25 years old, with an unemployment rate of around 30 per cent. The ILO said more than 27 million youth will come of working age in the next five years, leading to more pressure and competition for quality jobs.

“As candidates filter into the MENA market, it has become evident that they are ill prepared for the workforce, whether coming from a disadvantaged background or a more educated path,” said Salvatore Nigro, Global VP and CEO Europe at youth employment network Education For Employment (EFE).

EFE works with young people regionally and globally to give them economic opportunities and make them employer-ready, and also helps employers connect to local talent pools in order to become more competitive and generate more jobs.

Young people ‘struggling’

“Thousands of young people across the MENA are struggling to find their way in life – with many giving up all hope for the future. I’ve met young people who have been told ‘no’ so many times that they’ve lost the confidence to walk out of their own front door,” Nigro warned.

“This higher-than-average youth unemployment rate not only impacts social mobility and cohesion but is leading to a skills gap in the workforce and missed opportunities for growth. Turning these challenges into opportunities for companies to access qualified human capital is at the heart of our work.”

EFE is the largest youth employment network in the MENA region. By matching businesses that need qualified employees with young women and men seeking employment, EFE has connected over 95,000 youth to the world of work, while providing 3,100 businesses with the talent they need to become more competitive and grow.

Over 56 per cent of EFE’s graduates are young women, reflecting EFE’s focus on supporting women’s entry into the workforce. EFE runs operations in Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Yemen, with global support hubs in Europe, the US and the UAE.

Connecting UAE employers and graduates

Dima Najim, managing director – EFE UAE said the Dubai-based office is mainly focused on “communicating with employers and making sure their needs are understood”.

“We design our training based on the needs of these employers. The focus is on certain skills such as communication skills, self confidence and customer service. We focus a lot on personal development and teaching youth to work on themselves and to prove themselves, so the journey of learning is something that doesn’t end,” Najim said.

EFE UAE is currently working in collaboration with government entities, such as HR departments.

“The government has a great focus on the young Emiratis… they’ve always tried to look into opportunities to advance their careers or provide young people with the required skills or link them to the private sectors,” the managing director said.

However, Najim admits that many young Emiratis prefer to seek out highly remunerated, less stressful government jobs.

She said: “Some private sector jobs may not be as attractive as working for the government. There are a lot of government jobs available for young Emiratis but there’s also a push towards encouraging young people to be involved in the private sector.

“Sometimes the private sector may not be able to offer the same benefits as a government job, but sometimes, if they have the talent, graduates can have a stellar career in the private sector – so it’s extremely important to showcase role models who actually made it in the private sector and made a career in important industries.”

Digital drive

Najim said that the promotion of digital skills is at the top of the regional and global EFE agenda.

“We’re focusing on digital skills and recently we introduced, in partnership with Accenture, new initiatives to equip youth with the skills they need in the digital workplace.

“This will focus their attention and will enable them to succeed – especially in their first job. You don’t want to go to a job unable to understand basic digital skills, such as creating a calendar invite. It’s a small thing but it affects a young person when they first join.”

The managing director said EFE is particularly focused on nurturing talent for the UAE’s tech sectors.

“In 2017, the UAE launched an artificial intelligence (AI) strategy and that creates huge opportunities for young people because the UAE is going to be a hub for technologies.

“This type of initiative creates opportunities and jobs for young people, not only in the UAE, but also across the region. It’s vital for us to keep an eye on the digital future and digital skills,” she said.

By Alicia Buller

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