BEIRUT: The World Bank will soon call upon Lebanese youths to apply to “New Entrance to Work,” a project aimed at providing 3,000 job opportunities as unemployment in Lebanon is expected to double by the end of 2014 and reach 20 percent, said Haneen Sayed, Human Development Coordinator at the World Bank.
“A study conducted by the World Bank found that it takes around 18 months for fresh graduates to find a job. So the World Bank has launched ‘NEW’ to help Lebanese graduates in finding jobs quickly,” Sayed told The Daily Star in an exclusive interview.
Sayed said that employers want people with experience and fresh graduates do not have it so this project is a way to give them a chance to develop work experience.
She added that one of the study’s findings is that employers usually complain about fresh graduates lacking certain skills including team work in addition to basic soft skills.
“We put them through a training program of 50 hours then companies are contacted to employ these people,” she said.
Sayed explained that the project is supported by the World Bank but it will be implemented by the Ministry of Labor and the National Employment Office. “Moreover, non-governmental organizations will be contracted to do the training, the placement, and to monitor graduates while they are on the job,” she said.
She added: “So these youths remain on the job for up to two years and at the same time the government will pay the social security contribution of the firm as a way to incentivize them to employ these fresh grads. This way they do not have to worry about 22 percent of the cost.”
Sayed called upon universities to modernize their education system in order to produce people who have the skills needed by employers.
“The education system must be enhanced and I am not talking about the well-known universities but there is a big bulk of the private universities that are not so tuned to what employers want,” she said.
A World Bank report entitled “Good jobs needed” states that unemployment rates in Lebanon are particularly high for women (18 percent) and youth (34 percent).
It says that unemployment also increases with education.
Around 14 percent of university graduates and 15 percent of those with secondary education are unemployed relative to some 10 percent among workers with no education and only 7 percent among those with primary education.
“The main reason behind the high rate of unemployment in Lebanon is that there were no sufficient high quality jobs created by the economy to match the number of people graduating and which has been increasing very fast,” Sayed said. “The economy was creating jobs for low and semi-skilled people only and many of these jobs were not even taken by Lebanese,” she added.
Sayed believes that one of the reasons behind the expected increase in the unemployment rate in Lebanon to 20 percent is the huge influx of Syrian refugees to the country and their competition with Lebanese over job opportunities.
Labor Minister Sajaan Qazzi declared three days ago that of the 1.6 million Syrian refugees, 47 percent are workers competing with the Lebanese for jobs.
He said Syrians who have long worked as laborers in Lebanon are now taking jobs that under the law only Lebanese should hold, such as engineers, medics and accountants. Companies hire them for less money and avoid paying social security and severance pay, Qazzi added.
Sayed expressed her optimism about the Lebanese job market once the Syrian crisis comes to an end. “Once the crisis gets over, there will be a huge reconstruction effort that needs to be done in Syria and the Lebanese economy and private sector will benefit hugely,” she said. “Lebanese will be the first at the door helping Syria. They have the skills and the capacity and this will improve the job market to a huge extent.”
But she believes that the government needs to create an investment friendly environment which will help in creating job opportunities. “Electricity should be realizable and we should be able to offer low cost internet services for small businesses for them to be able to operate in the country,” she said. “The whole infrastructure needs to be fixed in order to encourage the private sector to invest in high productivity fields in addition to attracting Foreign Direct Investments.”