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Sat 23 May 2015 01:56 AM

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Gulf businessmen call for shake-up to cut youth unemployment

Aramex chief Fadi Ghandour says youth unemployment is biggest challenge and biggest opportunity in region

Gulf businessmen call for shake-up to cut youth unemployment
Fadi Ghandour, founder and vice chairman, Aramex International.

Leading Gulf businessmen have said schools and universities should teach critical thinking, women should be encouraged to join the workforce, and governments should ease regulations for start-ups to reduce unemployment among Arab youth.

Fadi Ghandour, founder and vice chairman, Aramex International, told the World Economic Forum in Jordan: “Youth is the biggest challenge and the biggest opportunity in the region.”

Speaking of young people, who make up two-thirds of the Arab population, he emphasized that the main function of the educational system in the Arab world is “still to produce people who work in the public sector”.

In some Arab countries, the public sector employs 50-80 percent of the workforce, he said.

“In our region, we are so caught up with getting the degree but are not teaching youth how to think,” said Omar K Alghanim, CEO, Alghanim Industries.

He added: “Across the Gulf, there is no teacher proficiency. We have a lot of desks, a lot of school buildings and a lot of teachers, but we don’t have a lot of quality.”

For Bodour Al Qasimi, chairperson, Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq), the need to overhaul the educational system is imperative and the collective responsibility of parents, governments, the private sector and civil society.

“We need to first invest in people then in infrastructure,” Al Qasimi said.

Another challenge that Arab youth face is the red tape imposed by their governments that is off-putting.

“Sadly, in our region, it’s not the lack of capital that is a problem for young entrepreneurs, but excessive government regulations,” said Alghanim. Moreover, the private sector has a role to play. “We need to create laws that make it easier for banks to fund SMEs.”

Compounding the problem is that young women are not joining the workforce. At 44 percent, female youth unemployment is almost double that of their male counterparts in the region, although more than half of university graduates are women. “We need to change perceived gender roles in our society,” said Al Qasimi.

“We need to have more legislation that supports women, such as maternity leave and shared parental responsibility.”

If young people are not given options, there is the danger of them turning to radicalization, said Mahmoud Jibril, Prime Minister of Libya (2011) and Leader of the National Forces Alliance of Libya. “The question is do we want our kids to be part of the productive force, or do we want them to be part of Daesh (ISIS),” he said.

Click here for all the stories from our coverage of the World Economic Forum, MENA, in Jordan