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International and local firms vie for talent at FORWARD job fair

Many university graduates filled out job application forms at the forum held in BIEL. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

BEIRUT: Despite efforts by organizers and local NGOs to focus on reversing Lebanon’s ongoing brain drain, international companies remain the top attraction for job seekers at this year’s Forum for Orientation and Recruitment (FORWARD).

The forum, which runs through Sunday at BIEL, primarily targets students and job seekers at an early stage of their career. The Lebanese economy sorely needs to retain these young skilled workers, but is hurt by low wages and high education costs in the country.

Layal Sawaya, the regional human resources manager for Nestle, summed up the fundamental problem in the country’s job market: “Good job openings are scarce in Lebanon.”

Representatives for international companies such as Nestle and Emirates Airlines attracted much attention from the job fair’s hopeful applicants. who are motivated by the higher wages offered overseas and the current downturn in the Lebanese economy, according to Sawaya.

Attendee Jean-Pierre Djabrayan, who works in the finance sector and is looking into opportunities, agreed.

“I want to leave Lebanon because there is a lack of opportunities to build a career and the economy has setbacks every couple of years,” he said.

“Besides [seeking] a better salary I want to live in a place with a solid security situation and a stable economy. If possible [I will emigrate to] Europe.”

Other attendees cite bad infrastructure as a motivation for leaving. Caroline Raad, a job seeker who lived in Kuwait for 10 years and is interested in opportunities inside and outside of Lebanon, said:

“My salary there was the same as it would have been here, but they don’t have regular power cuts there for example, which is very convenient.”

The lure of emigration isn’t just there for graduates and job seekers – FORWARD also hosted educational institutions looking to poach potential Lebanese students.

International institutions were on hand to attract students with low tuition fees and claims of better preparation for the international job market.

“International universities with lectures in English prepare the students better for global jobs, and we offer programs at high-ranking universities that are much cheaper abroad than in Beirut,” said Samer Sayed, Beirut office manager of the educational agency Overseas.

According to Sayed, university fees in Beirut for internationally recognized undergraduate programs start at $18,000 a year, while his organization can offer programs at the highest-ranking universities in Canada or Australia for only slightly more, starting from $20,000.

Cheaper programs in countries such as Turkey start from $7,000. These programs attract students eager to study abroad who cannot afford elitist international university fees.

This year at FORWARD, the German Embassy even added to the siren song of emigration, setting up a booth to recruit students and train them as doctors and engineers to address a domestic shortfall in these fields.

“We want to take advantage of the strong Lebanese language skills and their mentality, which is closer to German mentality than other Arab countries,” said Gudrun Haider, an embassy representative at the forum.

Meanwhile, local players struggle to combat the trend of youth emigration from Lebanon, working to grow the local business culture, encourage entrepreneurshipand even lure emigrants to return.

Labora, an NGO created to promote jobs in the public sector and reduce emigration, was at the forum to highlight those job opportunities that are available in Lebanon.

Labora’s executive director, Maroun Najm, explained: “The public sector has a bad image. People think there are no worthy careers and people only get employed through ‘wasta’ [personal connections].”

He said Labora’s aim was to spur young talented professionals to join the public sector, bring in their ideas to help modernize structures and therefore trigger economic growth.

“The country needs its skilled workers,” Najm said.

Labora also partners with private companies. The NGO currently assists about 800 firms with the recruitment and places between 20 to 30 employees monthly, according to Najm. Its partner companies work in various sectors such as advertising, cosmetics, engineering and the food industry, and include such big names as TSC and Spinney’s.

FORWARD plays a part itself in promoting local entrepreneurship with the parallel hosted BUSINESS forum in its third consecutive year, which aims at supporting entrepreneurs to “start, set and grow a business.”

The Federation of Chambers of Commerce Industry and Agriculture publishes a monthly magazine to inform expatriates about trends in Lebanon, in order to encourage them to re-enter the Lebanese economy.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 20, 2013, on page 4.

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