BEIRUT: When Zeina choose to pursue business administration at the American University of Beirut for her graduate studies, it was not her first choice. Majoring in anthropology for her undergraduate studies, she said that although she found the course work fascinating, upon graduation she was faced with the harsh reality that the subject did not exactly open doors.
“I had to get a job in a coffee shop after my undergrad, because there were no jobs in my field,” she said.
The options for Zeina, who asked to be identified by only her first name, were twofold: Either go back to school to pursue a doctorate in her field and improve her chances of landing a job in academia or research; or get a degree in something where jobs were already lined up.
“I thought the first step would require a lot of extra schooling and landing a job after would still not be a sure thing,” Zeina said. “And my parents said I need to think about the long term.”
So, like many young Lebanese, Zeina enrolled herself in a business-oriented program, thinking that this would be the sector to guarantee her work and stability in the future.
Zeina’s choice reflects those of many university students who are opting to study subjects already in demand by employers or those that provide them with technical skills bound to lead to work opportunities.
But Aya al-Mir, a senior career guidance officer at the Lebanese American University who consults students and is in touch with a myriad of employers on a regular basis, said when it comes to the job market there are no guarantees.
“I don’t like to use the word ‘guarantee,’ nothing guarantees a job,” she said. “Students have to excel in their studies and do well in their interviews.”
Instead, Mir said, there are certain majors favored in the job market, such as business, computer science and engineering. Other majors such as psychology and advertisement were also up-and-coming, she added.
In the field of business, banking and finance jobs are particularly in demand. Yet although there is plenty of work in the related sector of accounting, it is undersubscribed.
“Not many students like accounting because they find the subject material dry. There aren’t many students who specialize in the field and that’s why there’s always a shortage,” Mir said,
“A lot of companies can’t find suitable candidates.”
She said marketing graduates also had a high employment rate, as did students in management and information systems management:
“I think we are still going into a recession in the country so majors in the socials sciences are less booming than business or computer science.
“In these times, these fields are performing better than others and need to recruit more.”
She said an unexpected developing field was communication arts, with many students from this program finding jobs. LAU’s program offers different specializations within the major including theater, journalism, radio and film, leading to work in public relations, publishing and journalism.
“These were the fields emphasized by employers,” she said, adding that she was in regular communication with them to identify new trends in the job market.
Majors in the humanities, such as international affairs, literature and history have consistently led to limited job prospects, Mir said.
Nevertheless, majoring in a booming field doesn’t mean a definite career path is instantly carved out: “To really guarantee a job, students should not pick a major they believe is in demand, but one they are truly passionate about, so they stand out in a crowd.”
Nahed Khairallah, founder and CEO of job placement company Dynamic Recruit, said there had been a recent boom in information technology-related jobs, especially software development and social media.
“In essence a lot of jobs related to web design are in demand right now.”
He attributed the popularity to the flourishing startup sector, but said it was difficult to find qualified candidates.
“In terms of online social media, employers are usually looking for two types of graduates: those who have journalism degrees, can copy-write and has language skills, [and] the other type is more in line with marketing and understands search engine optimization.”
In terms of software development, graduates of computer science programs are sought after, he said, although a lot of university curriculums are not in tune with the trends in the field, making it harder to find suitable candidates.
“Their curriculums are outdated in a sense,” he said. “But what’s great about software development is a lot of our candidates were able to take it upon themselves to learn new trends, with personal dedication and perseverance.”
Khairallah said a university degree was often a sign a candidate had “basic” knowledge in a given field, but that on-the-job training and learning allowed them to pick up important skills needed to do the work properly.
In terms of what the job market demands, Khairallah made a distinction between domestic requirements and regional ones, as many Lebanese often work abroad.
“In general, Lebanon does not have a specialized job market, as compared to the Gulf” he said. “There is a lack of professionals working in nursing, radiology and people who operate medical machinery.”
Regionally, the demand for specialized jobs is high because the market is larger and competition is fierce.
Lebanese working abroad typically occupy senior level positions in the service industry and customer service, as their fluency in three languages – English, French and Arabic – is a major asset given the large expat community residing in the Gulf.
Khairallah also offered some advice for current university students: “I noticed a problem in Lebanon where a lot of students don’t research the sector as much as they should, so when they graduate they are shellshocked.”
“Schools don’t teach you everything – students need to research their market, learn new skills, apply for internships. Then they have a much better shot at landing a job.”