Employment starts with education

A more practical approach to vocational education and on-the-job internships would serve the country well.

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Unemployment is a major cause for concern in the UAE and across the region. The extent of the problem and the reasons for it vary, but it is being taken seriously at the highest levels, and it was a subject of discussion at the World Innovation Summit for Education in Doha this week.

There was plenty to discuss. Topping the agenda were talks on creating an educational system that prepares local students for a competitive and rapidly evolving job market - while reducing unemployment in the process.

One idea proposed by Christine Evans-Klock, director for skills and employability at the International Labour Organisation, makes great sense for an economy like the UAE's, where hard skills like engineering and science are critical to long-term development. She suggested making vocational education and apprenticeships more widely available.

To do this, education authorities must also work hand-in-hand with industry to ensure that what is being taught in schools - and offered as internships - meets the expectations of potential employers, and of students.

When educators fail to do this, regional businesses have no choice but look elsewhere for talent. General Electric's regional vice president, Khozema Z Shipchandler, noted that his company - the third largest in the world - wanted to hire locally, but had trouble finding people with the requisite skills in mathematics, science and technology. The field is indeed narrow in the UAE, where more than 75 per cent of students in state high schools opt for the humanities over science courses.

Secondary education is too focused on preparing young people for entrance to university courses leading to professional and white-collar careers, and most graduates seek work in the civil service. Moreover, the system insists that all job-seekers hold a secondary school leaving certificate, even though the attainment of qualifications in the trades and other non-academic vocations would serve some students better.

With 20 per cent of the most-educated people in the UAE unemployed, the system is failing. The time has come for change in the way students are taught, and in the expectations students have of their future careers. The solution is tailored learning that qualifies candidates for apprenticeships and internships that lead to real, fulfilling careers.