News & Reports

Arab Youth Focus on Traditional Careers, Not Emerging Ones, Report Finds

Over the past two decades, technological progress has rapidly changed the jobs available to modern youth, but the majority of Arab young people are still focused on traditional jobs that were popular in the past, a recent report found.

Eight out of every 10 students in Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia the United Arab Emirates expect to be working in one of 10 traditional jobs at the age of 30. But some of those jobs are at risk of disappearing due to technological development, according to the report, “Dream Jobs? Teenagers’ Career Aspirations and the Future of Work,” issued last month by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The report from the Paris-based organization, widely known as the OECD, is part of a larger global conversation among corporations, universities, and policymakers about what the future of work will be and what the effect of forces such as the rise of automation and artificial intelligence will be on employment trends.

Educational institutions are debating how best to prepare young people for the so-called “jobs of the future.” The OECD report, the latest contribution to this conversation, was based partly on questions asked of half a million 15-year-olds in 41 countries who participated in the most recent round of the Programme for International Student Assessment, better known as PISA, which tests students’ abilities in reading, mathematics and science.

Absorbing Aspirations of Others

Across all countries surveyed, teenagers are showing a narrowing focus on traditional 19th- and 20th-century jobs instead of expanding their horizons to consider occupations that might be driven by new trends such as the expanding reach of the Internet. Disadvantaged students were at even higher risk of “career confusion,” the report found, expressing interest in jobs not in line with their own educational skills. Disadvantaged students were also even more narrowly focused on the popular jobs of the past.

About half of all students surveyed expressed interest in traditional jobs. But in Germany and Switzerland, fewer than four out of ten students expressed interest in the ten most popular traditional jobs. Both countries have a tradition of strong, well-respected vocational training as well as more career guidance for young people.

“Interest in new careers in these[Arab] countries appears to be well below the global average.”

Anthony Mann
 The report’s editor and a senior policy advisor at OECD

In an e-mail, an OECD official elaborated on how teenagers in the six Arab countries included in the study responded to questions about their future jobs.

“Interest in new careers in these [Arab] countries appears to be well below the global average,” said Anthony Mann, the report’s editor and the organization’s senior policy advisor for vocational education and adult learning. Such high levels of focus on jobs that were popular in the past indicates a weak labor market, he said.

According to Mann, the youth in the six Arab countries included spend a long time in the classroom without actually being connected to the skills they might need for emerging jobs.

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The report reflects the importance of social and family backgrounds in young people’s professional aspirations. Andreas Schleicher, director of the PISA program, notes in the report’s fifth chapter that youths’ aspirations are greatly influenced by their relatives’ careers and those of other people around them. “In short, students cannot be what they cannot see,” he said.

Hana Addam El-Ghali, a director program at the American University of Beirut’s Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs, agrees with Schleicher about the role Arab parents play in shaping their children’s vocational dreams.

“Certainly, the responses of the youth have been affected by their families and direct environment, as well as a socio-political environment that does not provide support to the education sector to determine market needs and ensure that the higher-education sector provides what is in line with these needs in order to support the country’s economic development,” she said.

“Certainly, the responses of the youth have been affected by“Certainly, the responses of the youth have been affected bysocio-political environment.”

Hana Addam El-Ghali
 A senior program coordinator at the American University of Beirut’s Issam Fares Institute

El-Ghali also said that the majority of Arab countries, including Lebanon, “lack career  guidance and counseling at the school level, and therefore young people and their parents are unaware of the needs of the labor market, and they are still directing their children towards traditional jobs.” (See a related article, “Programs Help High School Students Find the Right Academic Path.”)

Factors Behind ‘Career Confusion’

The OECD report examined the imbalance between the youths’ professional aspirations and the qualifications required to achieve those goals. Many young peoples’ aspirations require many years of university education, yet the Arab countries that participated in the latest PISA tests ranked toward the bottom of those tests. (See a related article, “Arab Countries Rank Poorly in Latest PISA Tests.”)

Other factors, such as poverty and the need to quickly enter the labor market to improve living conditions, may prevent many young people from recognizing  their dreams. In Lebanon, a third of those with the highest PISA scores do not expect to go to university. Similarly, about half of Moroccan teenagers surveyed said they expected to work in a professional or managerial career, but do not expect to complete a university degree, according to the report.

“In Morocco, 47 percent of students drop out of university studies before obtaining any degree,” said Mohamed Belhasi, a researcher in the faculty of science and technology at Abdelmalek Essaadi University, in Tetouan. “We have a problem in directing students toward majors appropriate to the job market.”

“Many of today’s professions will definitely disappear,” Belhasi added. “We need to read the future better.” (See a related article, “A Coding School Seeks to Create New Opportunities in Morocco.”)

Seeking Career Solutions

At the other end of the Arab region, in Dubai, Mohammed Hassan, an assistant lecturer at Al Falah University’s College of Business Administration, believes that the report’s findings make sense, especially in light of technological changes that many young people are not aware of.

“The report raises serious concerns about the readiness of young people for future jobs,” he said. But he added that some countries, such as the United Arab Emirates, have already introduced new concepts like artificial intelligence to their curricula.

The report proposes using well-trained and informed career counselors to provide vocational guidance at an early age. In addition the report suggests involving employers in counseling and mentoring young people.

“The gap between education and the job market can only be overcome with effective professional guidance,” said Mann.


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