Is job growth the answer to the Middle East's woes?
There is no denying the fact that Arab springs were fuelled primarily by unemployment and economic inequality against a backdrop of social and political injustices and general corruption.
Indeed, youth unemployment is particularly rampant in the region, averaging 25 per cent, compared to an average of about 17 per cent in developed countries. But whose responsibility is job creation in the Mena region anyway?
Bayt.com, the Middle East’s #1 job site, conducted its 'Change and Challenges in the Middle East Job Market: How is it Viewed?', April 2011, to ask Mena professionals who they thought was responsible for creating jobs.
About 47.1 per cent of those polled hold the government accountable for unemployment in their countries, while 7.3 per cent blame the private sector, 5.2 per cent the education sector, and 6.3 per cent say it’s the responsibility of individuals themselves, stated the survey.
Respondents were also asked to what extent they thought the government held responsibility for job creation. The vast majority (71 per cent) felt the government was ‘largely’ or even ‘exclusively’ responsible, said the study by Bayt.com, which boasts of more than 40,000 employers and over 13.8 million registered job seekers from across the Mena region and the globe, representing all industries, nationalities and career levels.
The same Bayt.com poll asked jobseekers how the government could best improve employment in their countries; 10 per cent said ‘create more jobs in the public sector’, 8.1 per cent said ‘improve the education sector’, 5.6 per cent said ‘foster a better environment for business’, 4.7 per cent said ‘improve labor laws’, 17.1 per cent said ‘stop corruption’ and 3.7 per cent said ‘develop better transparency and legal guidelines’. Nearly half (48.1 per cent) said ‘all of the above’.
With a vast majority of poll respondents (86.5 per cent) indicating they believed it was possible to dramatically improve employment prospects through better public policies, there seems to be no substitute for a close public-private partnership in nurturing job growth and addressing employment bottlenecks, if not outright job creation, in the long run.
The great news is that the poll showed the overall sentiment across the region to be resoundingly positive, with 65.1 per cent of respondents indicating they are optimistic about their career prospects and 64.7 per cent saying they are optimistic about their country’s economy.
Below, experts from Bayt.com provide insights from various Bayt.com polls and research on the role of governments in creating jobs and the topic of Mena employment in general.
A key finding of the survey was that the MENA region was hungry for learning. In fact, over 69 per cent of polled professionals cited that they think reading is essential for their career growth with 78 per cent citing they read career literature regularly.
Moreover, when asked would they go back to school by pursuing an online program for further education, 39 per cent said they would choose a post-graduate program and 23 per cent said they would choose an undergraduate program given the chance.
When asked about what they looked for most when hiring, regional employers repeatedly rank ambition, drive, motivation, team skills, and communication skills very highly, sometimes even above technical skills and career track record as shown in the Bayt.com ‘Hiring Practices in the MENA’ poll, February 2012, which also showed that most employers would consider hiring a candidate with relevant skills but no direct experience in the field.
Top communication skills and language skills are essential and not just in Arabic but also as repeat Bayt.com surveys show, in the region’s prime business language English as well. A hunger for lifelong learning should be instilled at a very early stage of the education process and an educational infrastructure put in place or encouraged, to support that.
Employers in many Mena countries suffer from restrictive hiring and firing regulations compared to those in developed and other developing countries and this chokes their propensity to hire opportunistically in a bull market, said the Bayt.com survey.
If government is not to take an active role and credit for creating jobs it can still facilitate the mobility of labor by easing the structural impediments to labor flow, and also facilitate information flows on recruitment availabilities, said the respondents.
Government placement offices that are friendly, civilized, orderly and sanitary may be one place to conduct aptitude tests and assessment centers and try to match talent with opportunity. This can also be done entirely online as some GCC countries have started doing with state-of-the-art online career portals designed to facilitate and expedite and streamline the recruitment process and impart localized wisdom and advice related to the job search process, said the study.
Governments can then focus on providing a vehicle to expedite matchmaking and maximizing the flow of information about job opportunity rather than trying to actually create jobs. Incentives can even be given to employers who hire through these governmental platforms be it as simple as free access and job postings, free assessment testing and screening, and/or the promise that talent can be replaced should the match prove less than optimal.
There is a very significant case to be made for creating sustainable economic growth by encouraging a spirit of entrepreneurship. The Entrepreneurship in the Social Sector and Arab Springs Survey conducted by Bayt.com in conjunction with the Program on Arab Reform and Democracy at Stanford University’s Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law, showed that the Arab Spring had a positive effect in driving higher interest in both economic and social development.
In every country surveyed, a large proportion of respondents indicated that if given the choice they would prefer to be self-employed or own a business. While many cited the greater independence it would offer, other business owners started their initiatives out of economic necessity not opportunity.
However while interest in entrepreneurship is high, respondents indicated very high rates of failure of new businesses and NGOs. Lack of finance remains the largest challenge to starting a business, while bureaucratic hurdles such as legal registration and interference from authorities were cited by those operating in the NGO sector.
In conclusion, clearly the issue of youth unemployment should be prioritized at the top of policy-makers agendas and a flexible approach to addressing it adopted which looks into avenues such as structural reform, promoting private sector investments, and cascading better and more relevant training and education across all sectors of the workforce.
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