The Middle East @ Work

Egypt’s educated and jobless

Amy Scott Mar 5, 2008
The Middle East @ Work

Egypt’s educated and jobless

Amy Scott Mar 5, 2008


Scott Jagow: The Khan al Khalili bazaar isn’t just for tourists. It’s also a workplace for many Egyptians. And that’s no small thing. Finding a job in Egypt can be very difficult. Even if you have a college degree. Amy Scott reports on a generation of young people waiting for work.

Amy Scott: At Cafe El-Andaleeb in Cairo, young men sip tea and and smoke sweet tobacco from water pipes. One of them, Mohammad El Shahawy, studied English at university. But he couldn’t find a job. Now, he sells perfume on the streets to support himself.

Mohammad El Shahawy (voice of interpreter): There is a saying today that if you are looking for a job without any connections, it is like looking for a needle in a haystack.

The ahwas, or cafes of Egypt are filled with people like El Shawawy. Young, educated and jobless. Officially, 10 percent of Egypt’s workforce is unemployed. Unofficial estimates soar to 25 percent. And the situation is bound to get worse. Some 600,000 people enter the labor force every year.

One of these new job seekers is 21-year-old Shaimaa Ibrahim. She brought a stack of resumes to a recent job fair at the Cairo International Convention Center. Ibrahim is looking for work as an accountant. So far, she isn’t encouraged.

Shaimaa Ibrahim (voice of interpreter): They only take the resume, but nobody tells you anything.

Companies are hiring. Egypt’s economy is growing at a healthy 7 percent.
Foreign investment reached a record $11 billion last year. But employers say they can’t find qualified workers.

Walid Ashmawy is here recruiting for one of Egypt’s largest banks. He sorts resumes into piles on a coffee table.

Walid Ashmawy: This is marketing, this is information technology, this is finance, this is HR.

Ashmawy guesses he’s received 5,000 resumes. But how many of those jobseekers stand a chance? Maybe 5 percent.

Ashmawy: What they lack really is the soft skills. Communication skills, interpersonal skills, teamworking, basic competencies that’s required to start your job professionally. This is not there.

It’s not there, because students don’t learn these skills in school.

The education system is beginning to adapt. Cairo University recently opened a new Career Development Office. It’s the first of its kind at a public university in Egypt. Like any career center, this one will teach resume-writing and match students with internships.

Director Salma El Bahrawy says the tough part will be getting students to use the services.

Salma El Bahrawy: It’s a challenge, because students, they don’t realize the problem unless they are graduated. So we’re trying to convey to them that you have a lack of some skills, and you need to start looking at them so you can find the job easy when you graduate.

Finding a job you like may be a different story. It took Amr Emam three years after graduating to find work in his field — journalism.

Amr Emam: I worked as a house painter, a car mechanic, an assistant driver on a minivan. I used to collect fares.

Emam considers himself lucky. He finally met someone with the right contacts.

In Cairo, I’m Amy Scott for Marketplace.

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