The only way the region can overcome its pressing unemployment challenge is if the startup scene takes off. That was the message Bayt.com Founder and CEO Rabea Ataya had to give to a group of aspiring entrepreneurs at last month’s Startup Grind event in Amman.
Even though his employment search website is helping to tackle the problem by connecting job seekers with employers, Ataya said startups are needed to create badly needed work opportunities. “In the last 30 years the job market would have contracted every single year in the United States had it not been for startups under five years old,” he explained.
Yet future prospects of creating enough jobs to reduce the already dismal unemployment levels in the MENA region aren’t looking good. Ataya said there will be 100 million new people entering the work force in the region over the next seven years, meaning that the same amount of jobs need to be created in that time frame just to maintain current unemployment levels as they are, let alone improving the job market. “Never in the history of mankind have 100 million jobs been created in so short a period of time,” he warned.
Ataya emphasized the struggles faced by young people graduating in the current economic climate. “The MENA region has the highest youth unemployment problem in the world,” he said, adding that while in the United States a job applicant applying through a job website like Bayt.com may be up against 60 to 70 other candidates, while in our region this number can be up to a thousand.
The government, according to Ataya, has a large role to play in helping startups create more jobs. This means lowering the barriers for entrepreneurs to start a business or to continue to operate. “Those barriers in the region are some of the highest in the world,” he said.
But Ataya also offered some advice to job seekers themselves. He said employers often complain they see too few job candidates with well developed soft skills, such as communication and team work. Honing these skills, he said, can help graduates get ahead of the pack when it comes to applying for jobs. “The focus for anyone should be to try and build these soft skills way before they enter the work place,” he said, adding that even if an employer narrows down applicants by their technical skills and university degree, they will still have hundreds of applicants to choose from.