Giving Fresh Grads a Chance for a Good Life

World of Work December 02, 2015

Imagine trying to find a job as a recent college graduate in the Middle East. Not only would you be looking for a job in one of the most tumultuous regions in the world, in challenging economic times, you will also be competing with millions of other young people graduating from universities. At about 25%, the youth unemployment rate in the MENA exceeds that of any other region in the world. Exacerbating this situation, demographic projections reveal that the region’s youth population (up to 24 years old) will continue to surge between 2015 and 2030 with estimates of over 100 million new jobs in this decade being commonly cited as the requirement to maintain even current, unacceptable, unemployment rates.   It’s a basic case of little demand and a lot of supply, sprinkled with lethargic economic growth.

To us, at, these factors exhibit themselves in very real ways: the average job vacancy advertised at gets well over 500 applicants. This compares to the tens of applicants that most leading jobs sites globally boast.  While job sites all over the world compete to get applicants on their sites, invests a tremendous amount of time and effort trying to help employers make sense of the massive choice they are getting and communicating to job seekers realistic expectations for being selected for a job.
Indeed, it’s not surprising that 76% of fresh graduates in the MENA say that finding a job is actually the biggest challenge facing their generation or that the overwhelming majority of people under 35 believe that unemployment is a significant issue in their country.

Fresh grads don’t seem to be happy about the support they’re getting, either. According to the “Fresh Graduates in the Middle East and North Africa” survey (July 2015), only 3% are able to get a job directly through campus placements, and 80% state that their college or university did not help them identify job opportunities. They also feel that their education could have done a better job in preparing them for work, with 20% blaming the education system in their country for “being ill-prepared for the current requirements and skills required by the job market”. To make matters even more dire, 60% feel that companies are hesitant to hire fresh graduates because they may lack the needed on-the-job experience.

From an employer’s perspective, in spite of there being a huge talent pool to choose from, many employers find it difficult to find professionals with the adequate skills required to make a successful match with the job vacancies they do have. While employers in the Middle East are increasingly tapping into the graduate talent pool, the requirements and skills they need most are often connected to soft skills that have not been the focus of the traditional educational programs of the region. According to the Middle East Job Index – skills like communication, the ability to work under pressure, life-long learning, and being a team player are far more sought after than any technical skills.

The silver lining is that our research has shown over and over again that millennials in the region are more interested in running their own business than being employed. Unlike previous generations in the Middle East, for many millennials climbing the corporate ladders isn’t a goal they are struggling to attain: 7 in 10 fresh graduates in the MENA might be turning their backs on the traditional career path soon and instead become owners and runners of their own business. They want to build their own futures and to have a fair chance to compete. That’s good news because entrepreneurship is the best way to create new jobs. Even in mature economies (including the US) most jobs are created by young businesses in their high growth first 5 years.
The formula is simple: To build jobs, encourage entrepreneurship. To encourage entrepreneurship, governments need to reform the regulatory framework and lower the barriers for new company incorporation and continuing operations. Entrepreneurship must fuel the next generation of jobs in the region, and in turn, empower young people today to create a chance for a better life for themselves and those around them.