BEIRUT: As students mull over what majors to pursue, they are aware that political instability in the region and ever-increasing competitiveness of the job market is making finding employment after graduation a tough challenge.
“The local economic situation in Lebanon and, recently, in the entire region has left our graduates with serious challenges to find jobs, especially since the Gulf market used to be a haven that was able to accommodate our graduates,” said Aya El-Mir, the senior career guidance officer at LAU.
Engineering, Business Studies, IT, and Education have the top job employment rates. Within Lebanon, the business and education sectors are the two biggest employment fields. Outside Lebanon, consultancy and human resources are booming.
But there are also some secret gems in the job market that career advisers have picked up on.
Dr. Maryam Ghandour, AUB’s career and placement services director, remarked, for example, that “in every respect, in every major, we need sales. Even in infrastructure and engineering. But not everybody is fit for sales.”
She also said that there is a vacuum in nursing. “Every year I receive many job opportunities for nurses,” she added. This is because women, who used to comprise the majority of nurses, nowadays tend to disregard it as a career path.
The taboo regarding women traveling and working abroad has been broken, leading many female students to choose more challenging, worldly and interactive careers.
“Ask any university student ... she’ll want to go into business, see other people. University students now prefer to go into a career that has better prospects ... they would like to be in a more attractive environment.”
Mir said that accounting is another understaffed field. Though there are more students that go into accounting than nursing, “accountants are highly demanded in the market and not enough students graduate with this major.”
However, many majors have a very limited job market. Career advisers agree that the bleakest employment prospects are for the arts and humanities students.
Mir said that “unfortunately, due to the limited number of jobs related to arts available in the market, our arts graduates face some challenges to get job offers.”
Ghandour agreed, saying that “if they [arts majors] don’t have a minor, they have less probability to find a job.”
But students nowadays must face the reality that a university degree, in any field, does not guarantee a job.
The worldwide economic slump is narrowing employment prospects, forcing employers to increase their selectivity, thus making competition fiercer than ever.
Students need to enhance their CVs in order to be viable candidates in the competitive application processes that most jobs now require.
They need to acquire skills that will differentiate them from the sea of available candidates.
Ghandour stressed the importance of languages. “Languages are really, truly the key,” she said.
Ghandour explained that when employers are faced with a choice between an academically strong candidate who speaks two languages and a candidate with less impressive academic credentials but who speaks five languages, it is an easy choice.
The more linguistically gifted applicant will get the offer.
Also vital to improving the employability of graduates are “soft skills,” career advisers say. These include communication, leadership, team working, public speaking, management and organizational skills,
Through making available a variety of societies, workshops, seminars and volunteer opportunities, Lebanese universities are working hard to bolster these skills among their students.
“We have to prepare our graduates,” said Dr. Ghandour. “Otherwise they become obsolete.”
These opportunities are available. But it is up to each student to make the most out of the services their university offers and sign up for these activities.
Eli Mourad, the managing director of HeadHunter, a recruitment and consulting services firm, reiterated the importance of having more well-rounded candidates. He stressed that more experienced and outgoing candidates are a lot more desirable for employers, and these are hard to come by.
Mourad said a new trend of employment is making finding jobs even harder. Whereas previously people would spend most of their careers in one firm, in the last 10 years, people change jobs every three to five years. “There is a much higher turnover,” he remarked. This contributes to making a person well-rounded and exposed, and greatly enhances his CV.
But it also means that the number of candidates available for each job is growing. Faced with many choices, employers are prone to choose those applicants who have years of previous experience. This makes job prospects for fresh graduates even tougher.
Mourad said the job market in Lebanon wasn’t bad, but it wouldn’t remain so if the political situation kept worsening. Many graduates may be forced to look for employment abroad. Job experts claim that almost 50 percent of graduates leave the country to pursue work or higher education.
In the latest depressing sign for graduates, Procter and Gamble Co., who used to recruit between 15 and 20 AUB graduates every year, has announced that it will be closing down its offices in Lebanon. Although it did not cite political reasons for the decision, similar closures are likely to happen with other multinational firms who “prefer to stay on the safe side,” as Ghandour remarked.
The job market looks like it will get tougher before it gets better. Students need to work hard to increase their competitive edge by engaging in a plethora of activities and societies.
Mir concluded that “even if a major is highly demanded in the market, graduates should be aware fierce competition awaits them upon graduation, and they have not only local competitors but ones from all over the region. They ought to look passionately for a job, attend recruitment events, stand out from the crowd, and always network.”