Jeremiah Jasher

Every year thousands of university students graduate from degree courses across the UAE.

Many of these students have spent at least four years on their studies, their parents have paid tens of thousands of dirhams in tuition, and they are eager to start working.

Unfortunately many of these bright-eyed and bushy-tailed students spend months and sometimes years trying to secure a job after graduation.

According to the 2016 Research Report by job site bayt.com and market research company YouGov, there is an approximate 30 per cent youth unemployment rate across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena).

So what is stopping young, eager millennials from nabbing their first full-time job?

Multiple contributing factors are cited in the report, but “one stands out” - a disconnect between the expectations of employers and job-seekers.

Apparently a degree in and of itself is unlikely to be enough to crack the job market, so graduates and university students - listen up.

Noona Naofousi, head of technical sales at global recruitment agency Morgan McKinley, said that degrees are important for a theoretical understanding but students need industry exposure.

“There aren’t enough universities [in the UAE] that work with corporate industries or do open days,” she said.

“Universities need to reach out to companies and actively encourage students to meet with corporates. They’re losing hands on experience and the ability to see how they can transfer their theoretical skills to a workplace environment.”

The option to undertake work experience was made easier following a decree passed by the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation a few days ago.

Under the new decree, children as young as 12 years can now apply for temporary work permits and therefore gain work experience at a much earlier age.

Nafousi said that the new law was a welcome step forward.

“It definitely shows that the country is working towards the youth getting more skills and encouraging them to experience the workplace earlier on, so I think it is excellent that they passed this law.”

But even with an internship why are some students still struggling?

Twenty four-year-old Asma Qadeer graduated with a degree in chemical engineering from the American University of Sharjah (AUS) in June last year. According to the 2016 QS University Rankings, AUS is one of the top 10 universities in the Arab region.

Despite undertaking an internship in her final year, a compulsory requirement at AUS, as well as starting her application process back in December 2014, Asma spent 10 months after graduation without a job.

“Even though we had career placement at university, from all of the 15 companies I applied to in the past 10 months, I did not hear back from a single one,” she said.

Qadeer finally secured a job with transnational food and drink company Nestle through “pure luck” on LinkedIn.

“I made sure every one of my profiles on job searching sites was updated. I was ultimately contacted by a recruitment specialist from Nestle, who said that I fit their job description. I was ... working within a week.”

Others have not been so lucky.

“Everyone else from my circle who graduated is frustrated and the ones that were more frustrated are doing masters. They don’t know where to apply or how to apply,” Qadeer added.

In addition to universities Qadeer said that companies needed to be more willing to take on graduates.

“Companies in general don’t want to hire fresh graduates.”

Jeremiah Jasher, regional manager of engineering recruitment company O & G Skills, said that the oil and gas industry was one of the more promising fields for graduates.

“To be very honest I would not expect much from a fresher in terms of practical experience,” he said.

But work experience is “definitely a plus” according to Jasher.

“If I am hiring and there are two graduates but one has also gone to a company with on-the-job training I would always prefer the more experienced candidate.”

However, Jasher said that one of the key qualities in a prospective employee is having a positive attitude and genuine interest in the chosen field.

“What I would look for in an ideal candidate is an attitude to learn new things and that they are serious about pursuing a career in their field.”

Ann-Mary Jose, HR Manager at KGRN Accounting Associates, agreed that skills beyond those gained through a degree were sought amongst potential job-seekers.

“Absolutely a degree is not enough. A degree is something which you use to learn, you don’t have practical experience,” she said.

Like Jasher, Jose said that work experience is vital to develop communication skills.

“If you are working in an accountant position you require communication skills and strong interpersonal skills so then if you have work experience in your profile then it is an advantage.”

Malcolm Fernandes, self-employed CEO of online electronics store Every Nation, said that not much has changed since he was at university in term of equipping students for the real world.

“Would you believe it I even have 16-year-olds working with me, and it was no different; I found them no different to a graduate.”

He said that after completing his own degree in IT 10 years ago, he noticed how ineffective his university studies had been in terms of practical training.

“To give you an example, when I finished my masters in IT my fellow classmates did not know how to format a computer or replace hardware. And that was something I had only learnt because my dad had taught me.”

Dr Hania Nashef is the Associate Professor and Internship Coordinator at the Department of Mass Communication at AUS. She said that “some of the courses” offered at the university equip students with the skills they would need in the professional world.

“But what really prepares them is the internship requirement,” she said.

“The internship helps in exposing the students to a professional environment, which aids them in building connections. Some of our students are offered jobs upon completion of their internships.”