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Khalid Al Ameri: Are UAE companies doing enough for Emirati youth?
August 22, 2016
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

I was 15 years old, it was the summer before I started my junior year in high school, and my dad decided to sign me up for a summer work programme at a large company. I could think of much better ways to be spending my summer vacation but they promised me a 2,000-dirham cheque by the end of it, plus my dad said he would give me 1,000 dirhams extra and that was all the incentive I needed. For a boy getting 100 dirhams in pocket money a week this was like winning the lottery.

There isn’t any way to sugar coat the experience so I will just come out and say it, it was the biggest waste of my time in my life and to the best of my knowledge, has been ever since, although a coupe of jobs have come pretty close. I didn’t learn anything technical or work related. I was tasked with a job that involved a highlighter and counting things which took me around half an hour, then until it was time to go home I mastered the art of Solitaire, one of only two games available on computers at the time, the other being Minesweeper which until this day I still have no clue what the rules or objective of that game are.

To be honest I didn’t exactly put much of an effort into the experience, it’s not like I would walk around the office looking for extra work. On the other hand the organisation didn’t exactly take the time to understand me or what I was interested in doing that summer. More importantly from their perspective I don’t think they wondered how a 15-year-old could be valuable to them, you know like any other resource they are spending money on. But at the end of the day people have their own projects, deadlines, and career growth to worry about, why waste any of that time on a 15-year-old who’s going to be gone in a month right?

When International Youth Day took place Sheikh Hazza Bin Zayed Al Nahyan had some strong words for organisations throughout the Arab world. He said, “Young Arabs were in dire need of opportunities that matched their abilities and hopes,” but what are their abilities and hopes? The thing is Arab youth today for lack of a better term “get it”, they know how the world works, and they are energetic, informed and creative. The big problem I think they face is that they don’t know, or simply assume, that their abilities and hopes won’t bear fruit in the real world.

For example you have a young girl, let’s call her Mariam, who is about to graduate from high school. Mariam loves to draw and flourishes in her art class, however all she hears about is that there are no jobs for artists. She doesn’t know that she can use her skills at museums around the Arab world, or work as an illustrator at a popular newspaper or magazine, or work at a creative marketing firm on campaigns that can tap into her passion. Mariam could have even started her own Art Company running workshops and teaching children art, but no, Mariam enrols in something safer like engineering or accounting, suppressing her natural urges for the work that would bring her meaning and fulfilment.

How could organisations have helped Mariam, or myself, during high school? I once heard that youth unemployment will never be solved in the Arab world until corporations step into schools and universities, and vice versa. Youth today are not asking for handouts or free rides, all they want to know is what’s possible, what’s out there, and how they can put their abilities to use so that their hopes can be realised. That is what I believe government entities and corporations around the Arab world are responsible for.

The UAE’s Minister of Youth Shamma Al Mazrui started an initiative called “Youth Circles” which were developed for youth to meet, discuss and shape solutions together, to crowd source the energy, intelligence and creativity of youth to recommend solutions on diverse topics. Now if I were the CEO or head of an organisation I would be calling the minister endlessly and trying to attend these circles as a member of the business community or simply as an observer. If anything it gives government and corporate leaders an inside look into the issues that youth are facing, and from a more opportunistic standpoint what exactly are the creative and energetic resources that we have all been hearing so much about, and your organisation can use it to their advantage.

Summer internships like I experienced, youth engagement programmes and even youth employment can no longer be PR moves for entities to show they are doing their part, it can’t be a line item under your corporate social responsibility budget, which to be honest doesn’t always fit into the strategic and financial opportunities a company is pursuing. Organisations need to fully engage and interact with youth, understand their abilities and strategically place the youth in positions that help them develop these abilities while in parallel supporting the mission and vision of the organisation, and most of the time all that it takes is asking them one simple question, “What are you passionate about?”

The author is a columnist on education and youth development. Twitter: @KhalidAlAmeri

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