Getting a Job: Is University Education Enough?

As college graduates, we expect to get a job to which we can apply our educational background.  For most recent college graduates in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, this is not the case.  In some Arab countries, recent college graduates can face upto two years of unemployment before finding a job.

PITAPOLICY interviews Education for Employment (EFE) – an international development organization that adopts a public-private partnerships model to address the youth unemployment challenge in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region through entrepreneurship and direct-hire programs.  EFE Founder Ron Bruder and Program Manager Linda Wafi share with us how and the reason why the EFE model works in helping more young people secure gainful employment.


PITAPOLICY: Linda, what does your role at EFE entail when implementing EFE’s mission?

Linda: EFE’s mission is to empower youth with skills and opportunities they need to build careers that create a better future for themselves, their families, and their communities. We recognize that intimate knowledge of the countries and regions where we operate and working with experienced people on the ground is more effective and sustainable. My role at EFE includes identifying these different stakeholders such as local business leaders, educators, civil society and governments who share our vision and passion, and with whom we can build a partnership that produces job commitments and entrepreneurship potential. As a program manager for the Maghreb countries, my role is also to ensure the exchange of knowledge and experience between these North African countries that are culturally and linguistically distinct from the rest of the Middle Eastern region. The Middle East and North Africa region is rich with potential and talent; my role within EFE is to help identify opportunities that create innovative and viable solutions.

PITAPOLICY:  Your focus is on Tunisia, the first of the Arab Awakened countries.  What types of programming in Tunisia differentiate it from EFE’s other country participants (Jordan, Yemen, Palestine, Morocco, Egypt)?

Linda: Tunisia’s recent political developments and the ongoing democratic transition has uncovered a large number of challenges but also helped unlock the entrepreneurial potential of Tunisian youth. EFE-Tunisie was recently established as a Tunisian non-profit and non-governmental association to address unemployment issues. However, unlike other EFE affiliates in the region, EFE-Tunisie provides two different types of Entrepreneurship training. EFE-Tunisie will build the capacity of Tunisian Universities by providing Entrepreneurship programs to its business students, and will also provide training to out-of-school youth who aspire to become self-employed.

PITAPOLICY: Which training areas link the youth to gainful employment?  Any metrics to highlight the linkage successes?

Ron: The success of the EFE network affiliates is based on their alignment with local business needs.  It’s difficult to identify only two or three training areas that link youth to employment from Morocco to Yemen because the market demands in each local context differ significantly.  In Morocco, for instance, there is a strong need for retail salespeople, so we have trained young women and men in merchandising.  In Palestine, the market tells us that there is a need for construction site managers, so we respond with trainings to fit those needs.  We have, however, found that one type of skillset is in high-demand across the region, regardless of context: soft skills.  These are the professional skills that enable an individual to perform and succeed in the workplace, and include everything from appropriate work attire to how to communicate with a manager.  With McGraw-Hill, we designed a curriculum called Workplace Success and it is a key component of our programming, with content ranging from public speaking to interviewing skills.

EFE places a strong emphasis on using measurement and evaluation metrics to track and improve outcomes, and we have measured our job placement success from the first class we trained in 2006.  Since that time, we have trained and placed in jobs over 2,500 young women and men, with a 78% 3-month job retention rate.  Little hard data is available on the percentage of graduates that universities are able to link to employment, but anecdotal evidence suggests that it’s around 40% in much of the region, and is sometimes as low as 20%.  Since inception, we’ve placed 70% of our graduates in jobs, and we aim for an 85% placement rate, though naturally we work to exceed that whenever possible.

PITAPOLICY: Ron, as EFE’s Founder you have worked in a variety of industries: real estate, oil and gas, travel and medical technology.  What is your philosophy on linking private enterprise to enhance technology application in the non-profit sector?  How do you see this through in MENA countries?

Ron: Private sector partnership is crucial to enhancing the effectiveness of the nonprofit sector.  The application of new technologies can effectuate particularly powerful social impacts, but the contributions of the private sector are not limited to the tech field.

EFE’s partnerships with a diverse range of businesses are a prime example of the manifold ways in which the private sector can collaborate with the public sector for enhanced impact.  Through partnerships with technology companies like Intel and Microsoft, EFE and its local affiliates in MENA are able to offer young people training on and access to state-of-the-art technology, and EFE’s partnership with ManpowerGroup has provided the entire EFE network with world-class financial and student tracking systems.  However, non-tech partnerships with other private enterprises prove to be equally crucial for success.  Our partnership with the MasterCard Foundation has enabled a national scale-up of our programs in Morocco, and our relationship with Abraaj Capital has not only provided funding, but also strategic leadership on the boards of directors of three of our local affiliates.  Since we began programming, we’ve collaborated with over 950 partners.   The type of work we do, and the results we are able to achieve, simply wouldn’t be possible without the support of private enterprises.

PITAPOLICY: How does EFE differ from the US Peace Corps model?

Ron: EFE differs from the US Peace Corps model in significant ways, the most important of which are our structure and the breadth of our activities.  The Peace Corps model incorporates projects in a wide range of development fields, and across a broad geographic expanse.  In contrast, EFE is focused on achieving a high-impact intervention in youth unemployment in the Middle East and North Africa.

The backbone of the Peace Corps is the cadre of Americans who travel abroad and live in developing communities.  EFE nonprofits, by contrast, are locally-owed, locally-run, and partially locally-funded.  We recognize that our local board and staff in each of our countries of operation understand at a much more granular level the market needs, challenges and possibilities of the local context.  We see our role in the US and in Europe as providing our local affiliates with the resources, regional partnerships, expertise, strategic insight and networks that help them to build their capacity to achieve impact.

PITAPOLICY: Why is EFE not working in Libya or Algeria?

Ron: A number of parties in Libya and Algeria have expressed their desire for EFE to expand there.  Experience has taught us that a high degree of local buy-in is crucial to the success of EFE affiliates, and that makes us deliberate and prudent when we are considering expansion into any country.

For EFE to found an affiliate in a new country, a multitude of stakeholders from the private, public, government and education sectors must be engaged and their goals, resources and needs aligned.  Additionally, before adding a country to our affiliate network, it is key that we have adequate financial resources to fund such a startup.  We are actively in contact with a number of individuals and institutions from Libya and Algeria and have learned that there is strong interest in EFE’s programs, and when the partnerships and resources are in place, we would certainly consider setting up new affiliates there.  For the time being, we are excited to be implementing two programs in Algeria.  The first is a cross-border Maghreb Startup Initiative with the U.S. State Department’s Partners for a New Beginning: North Africa Partnership for Economic Opportunity (PNB-NAPEO), which runs boot camps for young entrepreneurs, organizes startup competitions that reach the interior regions, and rewards innovative projects in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia.  In addition, we have been implementing in Algeria cross-border Trainings of Trainers (ToT) in entrepreneurship also through PNB-NAPEO.

PITAPOLICY:  One of EFE’s goals to address the youth unemployment challenge.  Meanwhile, many emerging industries are relying more on technology in the workplace to increase efficiencies, which also parallels the industrial sector’s tendency to reduce the number of employees for manufacturing.  As a result, technology can be both a friend and an enemy–a “frenemy”  some might say. How are EFE education and entrepreneurship programs addressing these trends and the impact of technology requiring different skills?

Ron: EFE recognizes that as technology transforms, labor demands will too.  In order to enhance the ability of our alumni to keep pace with changes in skills demands, EFE has created access to alumni clubs, online courses and mentoring to support continuing education and development.

Perhaps more important, EFE teaches critical thinking and professional skills necessary for sound performance regardless of shifts in technology.  We’ve found that the confidence and engagement that our trainings and job placements inspire and prepare our alumni to approach challenges with dynamism, flexibility and creativity.  These “soft outcomes” of our training are key strengths that young alumni can call upon as they adjust to shifts in labor demands throughout their lifetime.

– Edited by: Nassrin El-Gosi, PITAPOLICY Assistant Editor

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