Career day events can help students make right choices

In a country where getting a government or military job is relatively easy, how can the importance of education be stressed to students? Manar Al Hinai checks out options.

Fairs such as this, organised in Ruwais last year, help pupils explore career options in their respective fields of interest. Silvia Razgova / The National
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Recently, I received an invitation from the American Community School in Abu Dhabi to speak at its second annual career day on February 29.

Besides me, 80 speakers will present 60 different careers to more than 350 students. This half-day event will provide students with an opportunity to explore careers of interest by visiting different career booths and speaking to individuals working in different fields.

My first reaction was, "Wow, I wish my school hosted a similar event in my days."

Seeing how this school set a great example of faculty caring about their students made me wish that similar events were being held in all schools across the country, considering the high dropout rate among high school students.

A study by the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research published last year states that almost 25 per cent of Emirati men between the ages of 20 and 24 are high school dropouts who never continue their education. For Emirati girls, the rate is 14 per cent and falling.

Given the demographics of the country, with Emiratis comprising about 20 per cent of the population, these figures are alarming.

I believe that the causes boil down to a number of factors.

The ease of getting government jobs such as in the army and the police force, in addition to the attractive packages they offer, is tempting enough to discourage young Emiratis from continuing their education.

When I visited Tawdheef, an annual career fair, two weeks ago, I saw dozens of Emirati teenage boys moving from one government booth to the next to submit their résumés when they should have been at school.

One way to solve this problem is for government entities to decline applications from students until they earn their high school diplomas, or the entities should agree to hire the young people only if they commit to working and studying at the same time. When students see how difficult it is to obtain a job without a degree, they will think twice before leaving school early.

In an attempt to deal with this problem, the Ministry of Education raised the high school graduation age to 16. As strict as that may seem, it is for the benefit of the country and its youths.

The lack of career advice by guidance counsellors at schools is also a part of the problem.

It was not until the middle of last year that the Ministry of Education appointed guidance counsellors to government schools in hopes of reducing the number of dropouts.

It is vital to note that guidance should be provided by schools and other entities in the country through events such as career days and field trips. As valuable as the opinions of guidance counsellors may be, it is more relevant for students to hear from people at work.

One way of doing that would be for the Ministry of Education to make it mandatory for all schools in the country to host at least one career day during each academic year. Local personalities and companies would speak to students about their career aspirations and the importance of education to push their country forward.

Another way is for organisations in the country to be socially responsible by cooperating with schools to provide real career days.

A petroleum company could host a career day for high school students who wish to work in the oil and gas industry. Students who are interested would sign up with the school's guidance counsellor and then spend a day observing how work is done in the organisation.

A great initiative was taken this week by SEHA, the Abu Dhabi Health Services Company, which introduced Mohakah, a one-day programme aimed at providing top students with a career day to observe how work is done in hospitals. The programme's goal is to attract top-performing Emirati students to consider the field of medicine.

To ensure the continuous development of the UAE and to increase Emiratisation for organisations that demand qualified individuals, this issue must be addressed immediately.

Manar Al Hinai is an Emirati fashion designer and writer. She can be followed on Twitter: @manar_alhinai