Why are students failing to get jobs?

High rates of youth unemployment across the Mena have been well-documented (23 per cent in the Middle East and 24 per cent in North Africa, compared with the global average of 13 per cent*).

The issue was once again highlighted in research conducted amongst youth across the region, where just under one-third (29 per cent) of young people surveyed were unemployed graduates. This figure was even more accentuated among young women (43 per cent of those surveyed were unemployed graduates) and fresh graduates (59 per cent of 18-24 year olds were unemployed).

The study was conducted in collaboration with Injaz Al-Arab, Bayt.com – a job site, and YouGov – a market research company – 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.

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 per cent 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 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 per cent expecting job growth within aviation, 24 per cent expecting growth within media and 25 per cent expecting growth within hospitality. Needless to say those sectors were also particularly unpopular in which to forge a career, with just 3 per cent 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 per cent) and gas/energy and petrochemicals (expected growth - 35 per cent) 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 per cent) of respondents claiming to have selected their degree based on the perceived career opportunities in that field. Instead, the largest proportion (48 per cent) chose a field of study that best fitted their career goals. Just 17 per cent selected a degree because it matched their strengths.

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

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.

Given youth aged 15-24 years old make up almost 40 per cent of the working age population throughout the Mena region*, their lack of work readiness and little awareness of the wide range of opportunities available outside more traditional sectors such as construction and gas/energy,  gives reason for alarm which calls for urgent action.

The research was conducted among 3,875 students and graduates between 15 September and 5 October 2014 and 1,006 fresh graduates aged of 18 to 34 between 8 and 18 June 2015 across 19 countries in the Mena region.

Note: * Source: UN Population Reference Bureau, 2010

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