BEIRUT—Ten universities in Lebanon have introduced a course called “Work Ready Now” that seeks to better prepare students to enter the job market after they graduate.
The global nonprofit Education Development Center provides the course, which is designed to help students develop the “soft skills”, such as good communications, time-management, and adaptability, that are needed to succeed in the workplace.
Despite the high levels of university education in Lebanon, graduates often lack mastery in the job-readiness skills that employers require. Higher-education institutions are increasingly aware of the need to train students to enter the labour market.
Students who have participated in Work Ready Now are enthusiastic about its results.
“I benefited from the course both professionally and on a personal level,” Gabriel Hourani, an exchange student at Sagesse University. “Unlike theoretical courses, it was interactive and mostly about how to act in your future career.”
“I benefited from the course both professionally and on a personal level, unlike theoretical courses, it was interactive and mostly about how to act in your future career.”Gabriel Hourani
An exchange student at Sagesse University
Hourani, who is 20, credits Work Ready Now with helping him land a part-time job with an international nongovernmental organization. “Being selected from hundreds of candidates while still an undergraduate student is largely because of the soft skills I acquired on the course,” he said.
A Soft-Skills Approach
The 10 Lebanese universities involved introduced the programme two years ago. Two large, U.S.-affiliated institutions—the Lebanese-American University and the American University of Beirut—are not among them.
“The purpose of the project is to provide support to private universities to try to uplift their quality,” William Potter, a U.S.-based project director with the Education Development Center, told al-Fanar Media. “These are strong universities, very proud of their academic programmes, but don’t have this kind of soft-skills approach offered by the programme.”
So far, about 3,000 students across the 10 universities have taken the course, and a thousand university faculty and staff have been trained to lead the course.
“Students are now able to participate in activity-based, learner-centred courses to acquire soft and employability skills,” said Potter. “Most universities in Lebanon offer theory-based courses mainly targeting hard skills while underestimating the importance of soft skills for success at work.”
The project “is not about handing out money but about asset and capacity building,” he added. “For the programme to continue and function well, universities have to integrate it into the curriculum and make it a stand-alone semester-long course.”
A Full-Credit Elective Course
Randa Chidiac, executive director of the grants and projects unit at the Holy Spirit University of Kaslik, told Al-Fanar that Work Ready Now had been offered as a full-fledged, three-credit elective course since the 2020-2021 academic year.
She said: “It is not merely about writing proper English, but about rendering one’s CV attractive, preparing a LinkedIn profile, looking professional, preparing for job interviews, and observing body language. In short, students learn all these soft skills that they do not acquire in regular academic courses.”
“It is not merely about writing proper English, but about rendering one’s CV attractive, preparing a LinkedIn profile, looking professional, preparing for job interviews, and observing body language. In short, students learn all these soft skills that they do not acquire in regular academic courses.”Randa Chidiac
Executive director of the grants and projects unit at the Holy Spirit University of Kaslik
The course also has a component on leadership, building teamwork skills, and problem solving, she added.
Chidiac, who was trained to lead the course, said it was about getting students’ minds ready for work.
‘A New Culture’
At Antonine University, Work Ready Now is offered in five faculties and students can enrol from the first year. It is being implemented by the university’s career centre.
“The modules are already offered for free by the career centre through seminars and workshops,” the centre’s director, Fouad Abdallah, said. “Work Ready Now is being offered as a regular elective course with full credits.”
He added: “The course is fundamental because the students need all those soft skills, which are generally offered by the university’s career centre. For instance, there is a big difference between writing a CV, which might take half an hour, and building a CV, which requires time.”
Antonine University plans to make the course available to students in all faculties and to add it to the curriculum.
“We are seeking to introduce a new culture right from the first year in university,” Abdallah explained. “We brief students during the integration process about the importance of preparing their career. We tell them, You should work on developing the skills you need for the future right from the beginning.”
Students Spread the Word
The popularity of the course is growing constantly because the students spread the word.
Abdallah said: “One of the most beautiful comments we received from the students is to have it offered as a major and mandatory course. This shows that they are aware of the need for soft skills.”
Work Ready Now is delivered as part of the Higher Education Capacity Development programme (HECD), supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in Lebanon, and implemented by the Education Development Center in partnership with Florida State University.
The Higher Education Capacity Development Program also helps the universities have stronger employment engagement and career centres. Learn more about HECD Program on this link.
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Besides Sagesse University, Holy Spirit University of Kaslik, and Antonine University, seven other institutions are using the programme. They are the American University of Science and Technology, Beirut Arab University, Haigazian University, the Islamic University of Lebanon, the Lebanese University, Notre Dame University–Louaize, and Saint-Joseph University of Beirut.