The Business Development Center is not only training young Jordanians on the actual skills needed in the local job market, but also helping them land jobs or start their own enterprises.
By Dina al Wakeel
Photography by Alaa al-Sukhny
Jordan’s unemployment rate is running at a historic high of 18.5 percent. The Phenix Center for Economic and Informatics Studies predicts this figure will increase even further over the coming years due to what it sees as flawed government policy. This, coupled with mounting costs of living, has left many young Jordanians feeling frustrated and disillusioned.
The Business Development Center (BDC) wants to help. Since its establishment in 2004, the BDC has invested in the Kingdom’s youth to mitigate the shortfalls in the education system, which more often than not, produces graduates that lack the skills needed by many employers today.
The BD-Center not only helps young graduates obtain key job skills while linking them with potential employers, but also detects those with an innovative spirit and helps them build their entrepreneurial skills. “I believe the backbone of the BDC is the self-employability, innovation and creativity,” said Nayef Stetieh, CEO of BDC, adding his organization has trained over 70,000 people, 30,000 during the last five years, around 70 percent of whom were employed across the Kingdom.
The Rights Skills for the Right Jobs
According to Stetieh, the BDC’s main work involves training job seekers, then organizing job fairs to link them with the companies that demand the particular skills.
To determine the types of jobs and skills needed by the private sector, the center carries out surveys within certain industries in the Kingdom, such as the insurance sector. Afterwards, graduates are enrolled in training programs for these particular skills, regardless of the majors they studied at university, because according to Stetieh, what the great majority of companies really require are right attitude and skills. “What we do is train the graduates to fill specific jobs that are available at a specific time,” said Stetieh.
One such training program is called Maharat, which trains young people on how to obtain jobs or become successful entrepreneurs. When entrepreneurship is concerned, the center’s training courses, whether they are vocational training, programs specifically designed for women, or others, focus on three pillars; behavior, mindset and technical skills.
One crucial part of the training is also innovation, which is carried out in cooperation with Leipzig University in Germany, whose programs are taught in the BDC’s training courses to entice trainees to think outside the box.
The BDC boasts a high employment percentage among its trainees, but laments that most of them, 91 percent, are hired in Amman, while the percentage across the Kingdom is 70 percent. Because companies are scarce in most governorates compared to the capital, the BDC particularly focuses on self-employability outside Amman.
Another one of the BDC’s programs is called Sanad, which particularly targets Tawjihi students—whether they passed or not—as well as the graduates of community colleges. The program works on changing the parents’ mindsets who prefer that their children fill an 8-3 job with the public sector than to start their own business, for fear they might lose certain perks like health insurance and social security. “We have come to realize that the parents are the biggest hurdle,” stressed Stetieh. “Which is why it’s critical they realize that the private sector where their sons and daughters want to work in is financially rewarding.”
To help the families see through a different lens, the BDC hosts young people who succeeded as entrepreneurs—and success stories are many. One example is a young man from Irbid who after attending one of the BDC’s courses, decided to establish a farm for different types of birds and rabbits. Although these particular types of meats are not part of the local cuisine, they are popular dishes for many of the foreigners living in Amman and his products are now sold in the capital’s supermarkets.
Another startup that was supported by the BDC has successfully manufactured Dead Sea products for pets. The BDC arranged for a consultant to help them develop a range of products from muds to shampoos and perfumes, while also helping them with the design and packaging. Now, Stetieh boasts that they have three outlets in Canada.
Vocational entrepreneurship is also an important program with the BDC, which has managed to embed its programs in the Vocational Training Corporation’s curricula. They have implemented several vocational training programs in different governorates like Mafraq, Azraq and others, where they also worked on providing Jordanian and Syrian women with untraditional vocational skills, particularly plumbing.
The program has received much interest from the targeted groups. As a matter of fact, for a small program to train 50 women in Mafraq based on a small grant from the UNHCR, the BDC received 687 applications from interested women, 60 percent of whom were Jordanians and the rest Syrians.
Following the training, 12 ladies decided to establish their own businesses benefiting from the fact that many Jordanian men who work during the day oppose that a strange man enters their home while they are away, even if it was to fix a broken pipe.
Giving Syrians A Chance Too
An important component of the BDC’s current work agenda is helping Syrians acquire the needed job skills as well.
Jordan has provided refuge to some 1.266 million Syrians, of which 656,913 are registered as refugees with UNHCR. Forty-nine percent are of working age—between the ages of 18 and 60—said the ILO, which means there are around 322,587 Syrians of working age in the Kingdom.
In 2016, the EU and Jordan agreed on the Jordan Compact, whereby the Kingdom pledged to create 200,000 jobs for Syrians in exchange for aid and more favorable export terms to the European Union.
Following the agreement, Jordan amended work permit procedures and regulations to facilitate the issuance of work permits to Syrian refugees, said the ILO, with that resulting in a significant increase in the number of permits from 4,000 to 40,000 during 2016.
For that purpose, the BDC has submitted and won a tender with the French Agency for Development (AFD) to implement part of a program called Sawa (together), which aims to increase the employability of Syrian refugees and Jordanians from host communities.
Three bidders were selected to implement the 8 million euros program over a 36 months period. “We thought that we needed to put these people to work. We couldn’t just let them do nothing in Jordanian cities and camps,” said French Ambassador to Jordan David Bertolotti. “Having hundreds of thousands of refugees doing nothing in a country over several years is also a risk for the stability of that country.”
To implement the project, the BDC has teamed up with the vocational training centers as well as the chambers of industry of Amman, Zarqa and Irbid, added the ambassador, to train approximately 2,000 Jordanians and Syrians on the necessary skill set in the manufacturing or the hotel and tourism sectors.
The BDC brings years of experience to the table, but Bertolotti believes their most valuable asset is their deep knowledge of the needs on the ground, particularly the needs of the private sector. “I could see in the governorates how good their knowledge is of the needs on the ground. They tell you in this governorate there’s a potential for agriculture for instance, while in another governorate there’s a potential for tourism. They have this interaction with the private sector and that is key because again what we lack as a foreign donor, even though we are an embassy based here in Jordan, is that we don’t have that very fine understanding of the skill sets needed,” he explained.
The French Embassy in Amman has chosen to support several training programs related to vocational training and technical skills, which they believe are still lacking in the Kingdom.
While Bertolotti believes the Kingdom has excelled at the higher education level, for engineering careers in particular, the shorter programs at the technical vocational level remain in short supply. “And yet, there is major demand because a lot of economic activities here rely on vocational skills; to fix AC systems or electric cars, you don’t need engineers with a PhD, but good technicians and that is where we need to place an emphasis.”
According to the ambassador, with the recent meeting of the policy council for foreign aid and development of France, which decided to double the amount allocated to AFD for its vulnerability programs, there is a potential for more work with the BDC and other Jordanian partners.
But that will depend on the outcomes of this program, in particular the number of people that will be reached and the number of trainees who will get a job. “We’ve built the program in such a way that it will not just be training. There’s also a placement component which is why we required this connection with the private sector. We wanted to maximize employment,” noted Bertolotti, adding there could also be a seed money component for self-employment.
For his part, Stetieh has three main plans for the BDC’s future: to help youth in governorates transform challenges into opportunities; to utilize the presence of Syrian refugees better so they can become an opportunity rather than a challenge, and to focus more on encouraging students to pursue self-employment and vocational training.
“The BDC believes that accelerating local economic development requires holistic change. Every project we work on contributes to that change,” he said. “When we support young people, women, small businesses, and local communities, we first look at what they need, and then we try to provide the quality service, the appropriate connections and the solid environment that brings them closer to the job or business opportunity they have been dreaming of.”
A Helping Hand
In a small 30-square-meter container that is house to 100 racks and trays, Amina Abu Hamdeh has managed to realize her long-held ambition of producing supplements using organic herbs.
By growing wheatgrass, barley grass, alfalfa sprouts and other types of herbs using the hydroponic method—which uses water instead of soil—Abu Hamdeh, who is also a nutritionist, makes organic supplement liquids using these herbal extracts. “The result is more like a condensed juice,” said Abu Hamdeh, who added that her project is sustainable from the planting part through to the last packaging phase.
After having just started her project, the 37-year-old realized that she had no experience of running a business. She decided to sign up for a program run by the BDC and funded by SwitchMed, a Spanish initiative that supports eco innovations in the Mediterranean region.
Abu Hamdeh attended the one-and-a half-month program during which SwitchMed expressed interest in her project for being environmentally friendly. She will travel to Spain at the end of this year to meet with potential investors. “Joining the BDC opened many doors for me and made it possible to go global. Through them I also managed to network and meet new people who can help me develop my project further,” she said.
SwitchMed provided her with technical assistance, paying for the marketing company and the logo. They will also be her guarantor if she ever decides to take a loan from the bank.
She currently sells her products, which tackle deficiency problems many people in Jordan suffer from, including B12, iron, calcium, and other mineral deficiencies, online and through word of mouth.
“I myself suffered from this, which is why I thought of this product. I realized that through sprouts we can safely get our needs of minerals and the body would absorb them easier too,” she explained, adding that they can also be stored in the freezer.
She runs medical tests on those wanting to take this product and repeats the same tests a month after they start consuming it to monitor the difference in their health status.
Abu Hamdeh is currently waiting for the license from the Jordan Food and Drug Administration so she can sell her products in the Kingdom. “It is a novice product that isn’t available in the market yet. Once it is licensed then it would be sold in pharmacies, organic shops, and green shops.”
Due to the international network that is currently supporting her, Abu Hamdeh has received demands from seven countries to sell her products. She is currently finalizing the products’ logo and packaging in addition to the license so later she can focus on export.