BEIRUT: Becoming a master of your profession doesn't only require years of professional experience, but also studying and training, and this has been the case for 40 recently qualified Lebanese technicians.
The graduates - car mechanics, electrical engineering technicians and metal mechanics technicians - committed themselves to a training period of 18 months, or 650 hours of evening study after working during the day doing their regular jobs, to acquire the qualification of first foremen/master.
Last Wednesday, 40 of the former 45 students received their certificates, becoming the first generation of graduates from the program.
However, a number of surveys on the Lebanese labor market have revealed that manpower with good technical knowledge and practical experience for lower and middle management levels is not available.
"Everybody in Lebanon wants to study," said Joachim Joerdens, an engineer for the German Agency for Technical Cooperation (GTZ). "But many of them don't get jobs because the companies have no use for their knowledge - it's too theoretical."
This was the reason for GTZ's introduction of the so-called dual system in Lebanon some 10 years ago in which students would attend theoretical classes in vocational schools for just two days during the week, and then work in companies for three days to gain technical experience.
However, a higher level of training was still missing. Because of this, a pilot project was put in place three years ago by GTZ and the Ecole Technique Superieure Amilieh.
Graduates from the dual system, as well as very experienced technicians without a certificate were allowed to apply for the course.
The program included classes on theoretical knowledge which is used on the job, as well as basic knowledge of business and finance for running a small or medium-size company and personnel management.
"In the ideal case, our graduates will train apprentices in their respective companies by using the dual system," said Joerdens. According to the German engineer, the graduates possess an array of qualifications.
"People who study for several hours a day after their regular working hours must be very energetic and motivated," he explained.
They also gained specific qualifications for operating the most modern machines used in their companies. And they learned to operate businesses in a more cost-effective way because during the course, they learned how to plan ahead and to calculate.
"Both small car mechanic garages as well as bigger companies can take advantage of the qualifications of our graduates," said Joerdens.
In fact, before putting the program in place, he had toured various companies - from the big concrete-producing factories around Chekka in North Lebanon to small car mechanic shops in the South - asking company owners what qualifications their workers would need to bring with them.
"Many companies, even very small ones, operate at a high European standard," he said.
For example, even small car mechanic workshops usually possess cutting-edge machinery for fixing electronic problems of the newest car models available on the Lebanese market.
"Most of the small companies possess these machines, and eventually, somebody will learn how to operate them by teaching themselves," explained Joerdens.
In this new masters class - which should not be confused with a masters degree obtained at universities - students have the opportunity to learn these aspects of their trade.
When it comes to job recruitment, Joerdens is very optimistic: "Our experience from the last 10 years shows that the dual system works. Most people found jobs either in Lebanon or in the Gulf region."
For the masters program, however, it is still too early to make a conclusion regarding its effectiveness. This first generation of graduates will initially go back to their regular jobs. Later, they might want to move on to other companies in Lebanon or abroad.
For graduates aspiring to work in Germany, things do not look so good: Their masters qualification is not recognized in Germany because there, the foremen/masters program lasts for three years.
But according to Joerdens, this is "impossible to implement in Lebanon," where company owners are reluctant to invest in their personnel.
However, the German technician is convinced that "our graduates can find jobs in all domains of industry." And there should be plenty in the Arab world.