Coronavirus: Fresh graduates look to start their careers in UAE as job market begins gradual recovery

Many candidates said they had seen job offers and internships delayed or revoked in recent months

Khalid Abdelkareem was fortunate to secure a graduate job in engineering, but expects his starting salary to be reduced. Pawan Singh / The National
Khalid Abdelkareem was fortunate to secure a graduate job in engineering, but expects his starting salary to be reduced. Pawan Singh / The National

Fresh graduates whose job plans were knocked off course due to the Covid-19 outbreak hope to kick-start their careers as restrictions ease.

This week, more than 17,000 university students and graduates from across the Middle East took part in a three-day virtual career fair.

Recruiters from 58 companies, including the UAE offices of Amazon, Ernst & Young and Etisalat, virtually met potential hires.

The event, hosted by Localized.world, which connects students with potential employers, was aimed at kick-starting young careers after the pandemic led to a near halt in the local and global jobs market.

Anthony Haddad, chief of staff at Amazon's Middle East division, said he was impressed by the number of graduates with technical qualifications and expertise.

The situation in Lebanon is really bad and unemployment is high. I want to work in Dubai or Canada - I just hope I can make that happen

Joseph Zakher, Lebanese American University, Beirut

"We are excited to see so many young graduates that are interested to pursue careers within the tech and retail industries," he said.

"Localized’s virtual career fair is a promising initiative to help global and regional companies find university talent. We are excited to see what we come up with.”

Joseph Zakher, a computer science student at Lebanese American University in Beirut, hopes to find work in the UAE when he graduates in December.

“The situation in Lebanon is really bad and unemployment is high, with less jobs and more competition,” the 21-year-old said.

“My internship and job search started earlier this year and it has been really tough.

“I want to work in Dubai or Canada, so I just hope I can make that happen in the current climate.

“I have an interview with a company in Dubai, but it has to be done virtually and it keeps being delayed because of the pandemic.”

He said has been "lucky" to secure an online internship, as many of his classmates were unable to get placements.

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The pandemic led to a dramatic slowdown in global hiring and widespread job losses in most affected countries.

Graduates fear they have found themselves at the back of the pack as the number of jobseekers with experience has swelled.

In the UAE, hiring on LinkedIn, fell by 60 per cent at the end of April compared to the previous year.

Those working in the travel, retail and media were among the hardest hit, though, the networking platform noted a pattern of slow recovery from May.

In terms of the most resilient sectors, job listings for software and IT services were on top, followed by healthcare positions, while business development-type roles were also slowly growing.

When the UAE closed its borders in March it restricted the issuing of new work permits and visas temporarily.

Some restrictions remain in place, and hiring from abroad also remains difficult due to flight restrictions.

But candidates already in the country can have their documents processed.

“New employment visas are currently being issued to candidates residing within the UAE, who are either on an extended visit, cancelled or family sponsored visa," said Mayank Patel, country manager at Adecco, a recruitment agency.

“We are not currently processing visas for candidates outside the UAE."

Mr Patel said the outbreak had clearly had an effect on how fresh graduates make career decisions.

Many have considered "alternative career paths" and others looked to adapt and re-skill, with a focus on digital and technical ability.

“There has been a slight increase in demand for apprenticeship programmes by leading organisations in the UAE too," he said.

“Covid-19 has led to employers seeking a more flexible workforce, including freelance and short-term staffing solutions, which is a perfect fit for fresh graduate students seeking corporate experience.”

A recent survey of more than 4,000 university students and recent graduates in the UK found that 30 per cent had either lost their job or had an offer cancelled or deferred.

Mayank Patel, country manager at Adecco. Courtesy - Adecco
Mayank Patel said some graduates will need to re-skill to match the jobs market. Courtesy: Adecco

The survey by Prospects, an online careers platform for graduates, also found that 60 per cent of those aged 18 to 24 expressed a "negative sentiment" towards career prospects because of the pandemic.

Khalid Abdelkareem, 22, from Abu Dhabi, was fortunate to secure a graduate scheme position and begins after the summer.

“I studied electrical and electronic engineering and started my job search last October, it was one of the best decisions I made,” he said.

“I accepted an offer with a well-known company in the UAE, just before the Covid outbreak began to disrupt job offers and internships."

He said he was looking forward to getting into the workplace, but expected his salary to be cut as his new employer has already begun to trim wages.

“Many of my friends either had their internships and graduate schemes scrapped or received pay deductions of up to 40 per cent.

“The only setback [for me] was a delayed start from August to September, and I do fear that my salary will be cut when I start."

NOTE: An earlier version of this story misidentified the organisation behind the virtual careers fair. Localized.world is the correct naming convention for the entity concerned.

Updated: July 5, 2020 01:49 PM

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