Foreign firms avoid local job fair over security concerns

Dr. Maryam Ghandour, AUB's career and placement services director, speaks during an interview in Beirut, Monday, April 21, 2014. (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)

BEIRUT: Foreign companies are showing increased interest in hiring Lebanese graduates, but the unstable political situation in the country is holding some of them back from recruiting locally, according to the recruitment director at the American University of Beirut.

“Many companies from Japan, China and India wanted to take part in this year’s job fair at AUB, but only some of them are taking the risk of coming to Lebanon,” said Maryam Ghandour, career and placement services director at AUB.

Ghandour said many foreign firms told her that they needed assurances that the political and security situation was improving before they could participate after their experiences during AUB’s job fair in May 2008, which coincided with clashes between pro-government and opposition gunmen in Beirut.

“Some of the exhibitors got stuck at the airport back then, and they had to take back the plane to their home countries,” she said. “This is why some of them do not dare to take the risk of coming to Lebanon and they told me that explicitly.”

“They said they want us to assure them that nothing will happen. But how can we do that?”

Lebanese firms are also hesitant when it comes to recruiting new people because of the unstable political situation, Ghandour said.

“Some people even have projects in mind, but they do not to start with the implementation because they are waiting for the election of the new president,” she said. “However, regional firms tend to recruit immediately, and this is why many of our graduates tend to take job offers outside Lebanon.”

Ghandour spoke with The Daily Star two days before the start of the AUB job fair exhibition, which takes place every year to enable students and graduates to network with experienced human resources managers from various multinational, regional and local firms, who have recruited hundreds of graduates at previous fairs.

This year, around 130 companies from around the world will participate, exposing AUB students and alumni to job opportunities inside and outside Lebanon.

“The exhibition aims at creating awareness for undergraduate students about majors and skills needed in the workforce,” Ghandour said. “Even senior students who are applying to a graduate program abroad or at AUB will be able to see which major they will specialize in.”

Ghandour emphasized the importance of universities helping students choose the major that best fits their personality.

“When you are asked for help by students, you must look at their abilities, skills, and values in addition to what is mostly needed in the job market today,” she said.

“But unfortunately, not all universities do the same.”

Ghandour said prominent firms usually hire employees based on a set of criteria, the most important of which were linguistic skills.

“As I realized, many of the university graduates in the MENA region don’t master foreign languages with respect to conversational and writing skills. They don’t express fluently in interviews unfortunately,” she said. “This is too bad, because successful companies usually place a great importance on this.”

“They also want graduates who are good in information technology, research skills and leadership, organizational and management skills.”

She explained that most courses offered at AUB helped students in developing these skills by requiring them to give presentations.

“We also have more than 40 clubs where students take part and learn to coordinate in organizing activities and fundraising, for instance,” she said.

“Many of our courses are based on analytical problem solving, and many of the consultancy firms like McKenzie Consulting, BCG and others need people who analyze.”

Ghandour argued that many universities tend to only give lectures, which aren’t enough.

“It has to have certain problem solving and analytical skills,” Ghandour said.

“The market in Lebanon today is fluctuating drastically due to the political and economic factors. For example, civil engineering was needed in the previous year, but it has declined in 2013 similar to other majors unlike in the GCC countries. Therefore, one cannot anticipate the job market today in Lebanon.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 23, 2014, on page 5.




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