Many students in Egypt choose vocational programs in the hope of landing a job in the public sector, where salaries are relatively higher and they can expect some worker protections. But that dream isn’t working out for many of them, according to a recent survey by the Egypt office of the Population Council, an international nonprofit research organization.
Samiha Abdel Ghaffar’s experience is typical. Nine years after completing an administrative assistant training program in Assiut, a city 250 miles south of Cairo, she still earns just 700 Egyptian pounds a month (about $42) at her position in a law firm.
Abdel Ghaffar had expected that her training would land her a better job. “I chose to pursue vocational education because I believed that it would give me better opportunities in the labor market,” she said. “However, I was unable to get a job in the public sector, and salaries in the private sector are low.”
Each year, about 450,000 students complete vocational programs at the secondary level in Egypt, according to a 2017 report from the country’s official statistical agency. Forty-three percent of them are women. A significant proportion of these students—48 percent—complete industrial programs; 37 percent focus on business; 12 percent study in an agricultural field; and 3 percent are in hospitality programs. For many students, these programs mark the end of their academic careers.
But when they enter the job market, their experiences are poor. Graduates describe low wages and harsh working conditions that compel some of them to leave their jobs. In 2018, 49 percent of vocational education graduates in Egypt were unemployed, according to the Population Council’s study. (See a related article, “Egyptian Vocational Education Largely Fails the Country’s Youth.”)
“Most vocational education graduates who are employed are working in the informal sector, in unsuitable working conditions,” said Nahla Abdel-Tawab, the council’s country director for Egypt, who led the team that prepared the study.
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Called “A Study of Employment Outcomes Among Technical and Vocational Secondary Education Graduates in Egypt,” it reveals the large wage gap between public and private sector employees, with female employees in the private sector making an average of just 453 Egyptian Pounds ($27) a month, or about half of what workers in the public sector earn.
“Our study reveals that one out of three graduates are poorly paid, suffer from significant pressure at work and have difficulty getting paid time off,” Abdel-Tawab said.
Most of the participants in the study also said that they have a hard time finding out about job opportunities. The study found that more than 42 percent of those who are employed landed their first jobs through relatives and acquaintances. Those with fewer connections and smaller networks often failed to find jobs.