Making Qatar employable

by  — 3 September 2013

Being the first employability portal in the Arab world, Ta3mal looks set to be a promising project provided that young Qataris decide to benefit from it.

Through Ta3mal’s website, young Qataris can receive online career guidance, attend virtual courses and gain market knowledge on emerging opportunities in the region. (Image Corbis)

Irrespective of the educational background, government organisations have been the most popular career choice of young Qataris. However, a recent survey conducted by ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller (ABM) shows that 20 percent of Qataris prefer working in the private sector, compared to the 58 percent who wish to work for the state. The survey was a result of 3000 in-person interviews with Arabs aged between 18 and 24, representing 15 countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. 

But no matter which sector Qataris choose, being prepared to start a professional career calls for preparation beyond academic knowledge of the field. The very imperative operates behind the latest venture of Silatech, a Qatar-based initiative which aims to create jobs and expand economic opportunities for youth across the Arab world.

Silatech’s Ta3mal, a word that means “work” in Arabic, is Qatar’s first online employability portal. Currently operating in its soft launch phase, Ta3mal will be formally functional in the next few months in Egypt and in Qatar.

With websites such as giving access to employment opportunities across the region, job portals are not a new phenomenon in the Arab world. However, extending the scope of such websites, an employability portal provides added learning opportunities for the youth. The driving philosophy behind an employability portal then, is to make young people more “employable” and equip them with necessary skills so they can excel in their career paths.

“There is a very serious lack of career guidance in this region and very few people are skilled in career guidance.” – Rachel Awad, Silatech.

Dr. Rachel Awad, associate director of Silatech’s employability unit, who has been working with the Supreme Education Council for Qatar for six years, draws a line between a job portal and an employability portal by saying that knowing the availability of jobs is not enough. “If you don’t know how to conduct yourself in an interview and if your CV is not well put together, you are never going to get in through the door. So this [employability portal] is really about building young people’s access to skills, technical skills as well as awareness,” she says. 

Some of the areas Awad prioritises on Ta3mal’s agenda appear to be in sync with what the leading companies in Qatar demand when hiring entry-level candidates. Stella Famakinwa, manager of human resource department at KPMG Qatar, tells The Edge, “The university certification is a starting point. What can add value to the CV are workplace exposure and experiences, for example internships, a well formatted CV and cover note and in certain cases added certifications and qualifications.”

The virtual learning experience of Ta3mal is facilitated by online courses, which are both specialised and general in nature. While the former category includes technical areas such as IT, entrepreneurship and management, the latter aims to enhance general skills such as time management, communication skills and business writing etcetera.

Silatech advisors delivering one-on-one advising sessions to Qatar University students as part of their practical training. (Image Silatech)

The learning opportunities Ta3mal provides are not limited to the virtual environment. While the programme does not have exclusive in-person courses, Awad informs that Ta3mal will work as an announcement centre for relevant courses carried out in Silatech’s Bedaya Center, Qatar University, the British Council, Education City and its universities and other training centres. Similarly, while there is an option of online advising through Skype or emails, Ta3mal’s registered users can benefit from the Doha-based advisors and trainers on Silatech’s panel. 

Explaining the challenges of providing advising services in Qatar, Awad says, “There is a very serious lack of career guidance out there in this region…very few people are skilled in career guidance.” Compared to the United States (US) and Europe, where career advisors are required to have qualification in educational psychology and certifications in guidance training, Qatar does not have equivalent human capital. To fill this gap, Ta3mal’s advisors are provided with basic training on career advising. “We developed a four-day training programme which really gives people the essential tools and skills in order to help a young person understand themselves better and think about their options better,” explains Awad.

At least a university-level degree and experience of working with young people are two key eligibility requirements. But to be shortlisted for advising services, a candidate is also assessed on the basis of their personality traits. “We actually use our own assessments which help to measure how trainable somebody is. [Also], we measure how interactive someone is, how comfortable they are with social interaction,” says Awad, adding that “an advisor needs to be very comfortable sitting and talking with someone one to one.”

While Ta3mal has the capacity to arrange global experts to provide advising through the Internet, doing so does not align with the project’s core philosophy – to train the Arab youth for the development of the Arab world. An advisor sitting in the US may be equipped with international certifications on career guidance, but will still lack the field knowledge of the Arab region. On the flipside, the same expert can provide information about the opportunities in the US. However, with a very low percentage of Arabs currently occupying the workforce share in the Middle East, the move of skilled Arab youth to the other regions will only lead to further dependence on the expatriates. 

“At Silatech, we are focusing on employing Arab youth, but ultimately with a goal of developing them within the Arab region,” says Awad. The organisation’s mandate is to support access to employment, entrepreneurship and enterprise to all 22 countries of the Arab league, something that falls in line with the ideas of the Qataris as reflected in the ABM survey. The percentage of Qataris showing confidence in their country’s progress increased from 67 percent in 2012 to 71 percent in 2013, compared to the 15 countries’ average of 55 percent and 58 percent, respectively. 

According to the same survey, Qatari youth shows the highest concern for the importance of fair pay, followed by owning a home. Ta3mal’s role here is to ensure that this expectation comes with the right combination of skills. Famakinwa of KPMG is of the view that the major areas of improvement in young Arabs include “attitude to learning and growth, innovation and passion.”

Ta3mal’s online courses aim to enhance skills such as time management, communication and business writing.

Started in Egypt with the assistance of Microsoft Egypt, Ta3mal was later joined by Qatar through Silatech as its founding partner. The next destination for the portal would be Tunisia. With more Arab countries planned to be involved in the future, Ta3mal has the features to customise the search settings. For instance, if someone logs in from Qatar, they will be automatically directed to the Qatar relevant information based on their IP address and so on for Egypt and later for the future countries. 

In Qatar, Ta3mal’s core partner is the Bedaya Center. “In terms of events and activities, we have a number of partners in Qatar already with Silatech through other programmes,” says Awad, hoping that these organisations will be able to share their information about activities on the ground that can be brought together to promote the youth in Qatar.

Under Silatech’s partnership in Qatar, Bedaya Center is the only public centre which Qatar’s youth can access without affiliation with any organisation. Silatech also partners with the advising centres at Qatar University, College of the North Atlantic Qatar and the Community College of Qatar, offering the facility only to their students.  According to Awad, all these centres use the same career guidance system, which is very specific to the Arab world. 

With Silatech’s backing, Ta3mal brings the right combination of elements to make a successful employability portal. However, its efficacy is entirely dependent on how the targeted audience responds to it. According to ABM survey results for 2013, most young Qataris use the Internet for entertainment purposes such as music, games and movies etcetera. The issue, then, is if the young Qataris will use the Internet facility for learning and career guidance?  That is a question that will only be answered over time.

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