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Sat 23 Nov 2019 11:01 AM

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Opinion: age old problems persist in the job market

There's still a stigma associated with hiring young professionals with little experience, but it's the older workers who are worried

Opinion: age old problems persist in the job market

Out of work Youth unemployment is on the rise again

My favourite line that I get asked by PR professionals and people I’m about to interview is: “So how long have you been at Arabian Business?”

It’s their polite way of asking how old I am while trying to figure out how a 26-year-old Arab woman is editing a longstanding English business title.

Some are less gracious and go straight for the “Are you the intern?” No, sir, I am not, but thank you for unintentionally giving me a compliment. But seriously, how can I blame anyone who judges my ability to edit a business title based on my age when there continues to be a stigma associated with hiring young professionals?

It’s especially difficult in the Arab world where the rate of youth unemployment is the highest globally at over 30 percent, while countries including the UAE don’t have legislation on age discrimination in the workplace. There’s even a meme that makes fun of hiring practices among employers, with a job description that reads: “We’re looking for someone aged 22-26 with 30 years’ experience”.

I find myself wondering if that’s why we’ve suddenly had a flood of social media influencers. Is it because no one will hire them?

You’re hired

But for young professionals, things are starting to look up. In 2017 real estate tycoon and chairman of Emaar Properties Mohamed Alabbar launched e25, a start-up that would only hire people under the age of 25. He said, “The world is run by very energetic, intelligent, young people with high IQs.”

And when I interviewed 65-year-old Egyptian billionaire and telecoms magnate Naguib Sawiris last month, he told me, “I don’t go out anywhere where the age group is older than my age divided by two and I don’t date anybody who’s not my age divided by two.”

He even told me he “stopped aging at 30” and no longer speaks to a woman who told him he is “too old” for her. How this translates into his recruitment practices, I’m not entirely sure, but I can tell you he is not kidding when he says he only hangs out with young people. (I initially met Sawiris at a concert in El Gouna and can confirm that he was the only one at his table who was above the age of 35).

And why shouldn’t he be spending time with young people if there seems to be more young billionaires today than at any other point in history? According to Forbes, there are now 63 billionaires under the age of 40.

This year Kylie Jenner became the world’s second youngest billionaire at just 22-years-old, a title Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg earned in 2006, making the case for young talent around the world, which are becoming more important at a time when major cities like Beirut, Tehran and Baghdad are seeing waves of anti-government protests revolving around issues like unemployment.

Too little too old

But while things may be looking up for young professionals, they’re likely to get worse for older employees, with the number of age-related discrimination charges filed by workers aged 65-plus having doubled from 1990 to 2017, according to the 2019 Ageism in the Workplace study by insurance company Hiscox.

It doesn’t help that adoption of robotics and automation equipment is on the rise, playing a significant role in the decline of labour income in the US, according to a recent study from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. But does it have to be survival of the youngest or eldest? Don’t we ultimately need each other?

I began my career at Arabian Business as an intern but I wonder if I would have made it to editor by 26 had I not been mentored by people with much more knowledge and experience than myself. The answer is probably not.

I also wonder what would happen if companies started hiring only young professionals.

Would all those influencers who took to social media because they couldn’t find jobs come back to the real world to haunt us? I’d much rather they stuck to their mobile phones.

Lubna Hamdan, Editor of Arabian Business.