Young Arabs are turning to a new Arabic-language platform to improve their online skills and their chances of employment.
Youth unemployment in the region is about 31 per cent, according to the latest World Economic Forum report, with about 27 million young people looking for work. Of that, about a third are university graduates.
In April, Google launched Maharat Min, a free digital platform offering online and face-to face learning, which is helping Arabic speakers to improve their job prospects.
It teaches a range of skills, from how to build a website and boost their social media presence to how to market a business, all in Arabic.
Emirati Yunes Jaber is a recent university graduate who is completing an internship at Al Jalila children’s hospital in Dubai.
“Learning in Arabic is helping me to understand digital topics much better,” Mr Jaber said. “Most of the new jobs I’m looking at require digital knowledge and literacy that’s far more than just basic computer use, word processing and presentation.
“Understanding new artificial intelligence technologies is part of modern work so they need to be learnt, but that’s not always easy when the courses are only in English.”
Hazem Al Bulooshi has a well-established marketing career but felt he needed to improve his digital skills to keep pace with a rapidly evolving workplace.
“Just a quick look at today’s job descriptions and you realise digital skills are hugely needed,” Mr Al Bulooshi said. “Skills related to e-commerce were very important to me but I wasn’t aware of the majority of what’s now required.
“Maharat Min Google went into details on how to use digital marketing methods to enter the world of e-commerce and what tools are available.
“Arabs in general and Arab youths need to learn and understand how digital marketing can increase their chances and opportunities for success.”
Research by the World Economic Forum showed that by 2020, one in five jobs in the Arab world will require digital skills.
Its report assessing the future of jobs and skills in the Mena region estimated 47 per cent of all work activity in the UAE faced increased automation, as did 46 per cent in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.
In Egypt, 49 per cent of jobs could be at risk, and 50 per cent in Morocco and Turkey.
Google has created a series of short films that follow six Arab women, including entrepreneurs and content creators.
They show how technology has helped them to overcome obstacles and enabled them to forge their own paths, and inspire other women to do the same by learning digital skills.
Freelance marketer Sara Al Hussaini, from Jordan, was unsure how to make the most of what she knew.
“I had a general knowledge of the tools available, but I never knew how to use them properly and didn’t know how to efficiently analyse data,” Ms Al Hussaini said.
“Throughout my education and work experience, I have been learning and practising all things digital in English and it was a bit outdated. Doing this course has helped me to reflect all of this in Arabic.”
By 2020, 21 per cent of core skills in GCC countries and 41 per cent of those in Turkey will be different to the skills that were needed in 2015.
So far, the most interest in learning digital skills in Arabic has come from users in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iraq.
The portal is also accessed consistently by Arabic speakers in Turkey, Germany and the US, with the average age of users between 18 and 34.
Dr Mohammed Ibahrine from Tunisia is an assistant professor at the American University of Sharjah.
“The web is an open platform, full of opportunities to those who can observe and act quickly,” Dr Ibrahine said.
“Language can sometimes be a barrier to those who speak only a certain language. With Maharat Min Google, Arabic speakers can jump into digital using a language they understand fully.”
The skills that users showed most interest in were creating a website, planning an online business strategy and getting the most out of Google tools.
“The opportunity to grow the Arab world’s economy using digital tools and skills is bigger than it has ever been,” said Tarek Abdalla, regional head of marketing at Google.