Unemployment is a common cause of concern among the youth today. Rarely ever is Aisha happy or in a good mood. The same can be said about my neighbour’s son, Omar, who is always negative and uneasy. He is also quite bitter about life and of the difficult circumstances that show no sign of abating. One thing both Aisha and Omar have in common is that they are both unemployed.
Aisha and Omar are a flagrant example of unemployed university graduates in a GCC society in which life’s demands are on the rise, thus making it more difficult by the day. I will not be discussing the UAE job market and increasing rates of unemployment — which is occurring all across the Gulf. Rather, the subject that I will be discussing is the dynamics behind the selection of certain individuals for an employment position. Why is it that when two individuals with similar qualifications apply for two vacant positions only one of them is hired?
Until recently, I thought that every individual has a wide range of abilities and skills and if they are given an opportunity to develop them, they will surely succeed and excel in the field that they have chosen. Of course, everyone is different. However, these differences lie in basic human nature. What is truly worrying is that some people do not succeed in developing their capabilities and sharpening their skills, even though they are working in the job that they desire. Some even fail and enter a state of depression. The reasons for failure are not attributed to whether a person is clever or not, or whether he or she has the necessary educational qualifications. Rather, it is mostly — if not fully — the fault of the human body.
The question is can the human body become a form of capital? And if so, can it make easier the process of obtaining educational and cultural capital, a job and social standing?
In most public and private institutions around the world, an interview remains an integral part of recruitment process, sometimes even more important than a person’s curriculum vitae, which may convince the employer to invite the applicant for an interview. A person’s qualifications play a preliminary role in the recruitment process, but it is the interview that plays a bigger part because it allows the employer to assess a person’s capabilities, whether it is for a job, an application process for a private school or a prestigious university such as Oxford or Harvard, for example.
Western countries, particularly the US, respect human beings as a form of social and cultural capital. For example, when one student is enrolled in an excellent private educational institution or university and another is enrolled in an average public one. As such, the student who enrols in the private school or university begins practising sports like tennis or horse-riding, while the student in the public school would be advised to play more popular sports, such as swimming or football. This kind of process can be categorised as a form of discrimination, which is carried out in a very clandestine manner. Consequently, the student who graduates from a university such as Oxford excels in sports such as tennis and horse-riding and also adopts certain lifestyle choices, etiquette and fashion sense.
Moreover, a graduate from a prestigious university possesses subtle characteristics that project an aura of confidence, such as the way in which he or she eats, sits and speaks. Consequently, this graduate joins a club whose members are from the elite social class, such as celebrities, surgeons and influential politicians. This graduate will not face any obstacle in his or her professional life, not solely because of his degree from a highly reputable university, but because he utilises the advantages such institutions offer. For example, when he participates in sports with members of the upper class. They subsequently can offer him a job at some point in the future or even the opportunity to manage their companies.
Such social interaction provides an individual with future opportunities that are both culturally and socially beneficial.
As for the other student, who graduated from an average university and practised sports such as football and swimming on a daily basis and in university, he will wind up joining an average club in which he will meet individuals who are perhaps less qualified and poorer. The members of these clubs usually come from lower financial and social classes. The graduate will struggle to find a job and if he does, it will be one that does not fall within his specialisation. After spending years in this job, he will decide to move on to another. By the time he applies for his third job, the company instead of conducting an interview, will rather ask the graduate why he did not work in his field of study in his previous jobs.
Several years later, the student who blended in with the elite will continue to lead a life of fitness and sports as part of his daily routine, while the other graduate is so encumbered with his daily workload that he even forgets to have his daily meals and begins to perceive sports as a luxury that he hardly has time for. Whereas sports, for the middle class is perceived as a holy tradition.
Members of the working class eventually succumb to the travails of old age, a fate that they cannot escape. Whereas the middle class, on the other hand, sees ageing as a reason for worry — but one they can counter as they look for ways to stop their body from giving in to old age.
It was my deepest desire to help Aisha and Omar by writing this article. However, due to constraints, it will not be possible to tackle the subject in its entirety at this point and we should leave this topic for future discussion.
Mohammad Hassan Al Harbi is a writer and journalist.