A few years ago, I came upon a large SUV oddly parked by the side of the road with a group of five teenagers crouched about the rear wheel of the vehicle, closely examining it with animated gestures. As I came closer, I could notice that one of the rear tyres was flat, and judging from the drift of the conversation I overheard, I could also tell that none of these kids seemed to know what to do next.
Approaching them with an offer to help, I asked the group who the car belonged to and if they were licensed to drive. One of the boys turned to me saying that he had turned 18 recently and had his licence freshly issued. His mom let him take out the family car for a spin with his friends. Things were going smoothly until the car had a flat tyre. And now they were stuck because none of the boys had ever replaced a flat tyre before and were hesitant to try.
Incredulous as it may seem, here we had five young men in the prime of their lives each scratching his head wondering what to do next. One suggested taking a taxi home, while another volunteered to call the family driver to come and replace the tyre. The vehicle owner mentioned that they had just passed a puncture shop and maybe one of his friends could go there to get assistance.
I couldn’t keep quiet any longer. “Are you guys serious? You want to leave the car here or find someone to replace the tyre for you? Why don’t you get the manual out and try to do it yourself? And I’ll be here to help guide you,” I volunteered. “First thing you do is make sure you have a good spare tyre and the wheel changing jack and tools. Go ahead, look for them. Also, put the emergency brakes on and turn on the hazard flasher.”
Lessons from a flat tyre
Although they were hesitant on embarking on what was probably a daunting task to them, soon we had one kid reading from the manual while his friends got busy with the task on hand. It took almost an hour with a few fumbles along the way, but they finally managed to get the replacement on, and after thanking me effusively, they were on their way. In parting, I told them to stop at the nearest puncture shop and get the flat tyre fixed.
That was then, several years ago, and the situation does not seem to have improved much with some of the youth. Is it their fault or does the blame lie with our education administrators who seem to be heavily focused on everyone getting a degree?
As we shore up a surplus of such professionals, perhaps it is time to focus on teaching some of our relatively untrained youth practical daily skills such as carpentry, plumbing, electrical and automotive repairs.
Today’s world requires intuitive and creative skills, skills that go beyond sitting on a desk, and making decisions. In that, I suspect that the GCC is far behind the rest of the world. For it is obvious by the number of semi-skilled and unskilled labour toiling away in the oil-rich countries.
The GCC countries are rich in their nationals toiling away as white-collar workers in a variety of professions. Be they doctors, lawyers, engineers, scientists, educators, there is no shortage among the emerging educated population. Decades of the governments’ concerns in developing the skills of their nationals have led to the largesse.
Reliance on imported skilled labour must end
But now as we shore up a surplus of such professionals, perhaps it is time to focus on teaching some of our relatively untrained youth practical daily skills such as carpentry, plumbing, electrical and automotive repairs. The nationals that have taken to these professions are too few and far in between.
While GCC governments have technical colleges and institutes ready to train volunteers, some of the basic skills must be introduced at the school level to expose the kids to a wide variety of professions, and perhaps help them hone their trade from an early age. Make such professions attractive in remunerations to nationals to encourage them to adopt these trades. The reliance on imported skilled labour must eventually come to an end.
For example, an auto workshop in the school curriculum — one that would help these kids learn a few basics such as simple troubleshooting and repairs under controlled and instructed guidance — would go a long way towards some independence. An hour a week would probably be very receptive to these kids who will soon be warriors on the road. At least they would be able to help themselves if confronted by routine breakdowns.
Our education ministries must think out of the box as we are falling woefully short of preparing our youth to skills of the trade.
— Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena