As part of its series to address issues of higher education and scientific research in the Arab world, Al-Fanar Media organised a panel discussion last week on future jobs and the gap between the skills that employers are looking for and those that university graduates typically possess.
Moderated by Al-Fanar Media’s editor-in-chief, Mohamed El-Hawary, the panel featured Maha Fakhry, head of the University Centers for Career Development project, a USAID-funded project based at the American University in Cairo to establish career development centres in Egyptian public universities; Nesma Ammar, associate dean of the Entrepreneurship programme at the University of Prince Edward Island in Cairo (UPEI Cairo); and Miral Sabry, vice dean of the Faculty of Economics and Political Science at Future University in Egypt.
Global Skills Gap
To start with, Fakhry described the skills gap crisis as a global problem rather than an Arab or Egyptian one, noting that the whole world is currently trying to bridge the gap between the skill sets students learn in education courses and the skills the labour market demands, including “soft skills” like communication, critical thinking, problem-solving, and teamwork.
Fakhry pointed out that the career centres project aims to establish 30 centres in 22 public Egyptian universities, of which 22 centres have been established in 15 universities so far.
Basically, these centres offer career development in a way that did not exist before. Fakhry believes in the need to adopt this concept at earlier education levels to enable students to know their capabilities and aptitudes. In the lack of this approach, she says, students often enroll in university majors based on grades alone.
“Students go through a long academic path at university that can help them discover what they want to be in the future, their skills, interests, and the values of the work they want to practice, and thus determine the most appropriate field for them in the labour market.”Maha Fakhry, head of the University Centers for Career Development project.
“Students go through a long academic path at university that can help them discover what they want to be in the future, their skills, interests, and the values of the work they want to practice,” she said, “and thus determine the most appropriate field for them in the labour market.”
Fakhry also commented on the evolving nature of the labour market in light of factors like the repercussions of the Covid-19 pandemic, climate change, and global data around us, which affects the type and nature of the skills required.
University Career Centres
Regarding the role of university career development centres in networking between universities and employers in Egypt, Fakhry said that the centres work to know what employers want in each governorate rather than at the national level only, in order to reconcile the skills acquired by students with what the local labour market needs.
The centres also seek to identify industrial facilities’ current and future needs in the governorates. Based on surveys conducted by the centres, Fakhry says that the labour market is changing at an accelerating pace and its needs vary from year to year.
“Certain things will disappear and more things will emerge,” she said. “It is very important for students to be flexible and able to learn different things, such as teamwork, and so on.”
The services the career development centres provide to university students include English training courses, since English proficiency is highly required in the labour market.
“The way is open for students to learn a lot in order to compete in the job market,” Fakhry said. “While the academic study and technical skills are important, there is a need to work towards acquiring skills that enhance graduates’ employability.”
She noted that 275,000 students have benefited from the centres’ services since 2017. The project will continue until 2025, in cooperation with Egypt’s Ministry of Higher Education. Ministry officials feel the importance of labour market studies for strategic planning, she said, with the aim of identifying the majors required in the labour market so universities can focus more on them.
Fakhry pointed out that there are 3.5 million undergraduate students in Egypt, adding that the career development centres would make a difference, not only in helping students to better plan their future but in universities’ communication with the labour market as well.
“A student can learn digital marketing and be surprised the next day that Facebook has changed the way it works. Here, a student must be able to develop himself and look for solutions from more than one aspect.”Nesma Ammar, associate dean of the Entrepreneurship programme at the University of Prince Edward Island’s Cairo campus.
“This process would give us the inputs we need to conduct studies that make us plan for a better labour market, and bridge the gap between university products and the labour market,” she said.
For her part, Nesma Ammar of UPEI Cairo said her institution offers programmes that connect students with companies already in the labour market, as the university is based on practical experiences.
“Students act as actual advisors,” she said. “If a company had a problem with marketing, part of the students’ study would be related to solving that problem.”
She added that the university’s education method was based on enabling students to update their knowledge through practical and training programmes, in cooperation with companies, so that students are equipped to start their future jobs effectively. “Students work for a whole year while studying as real employees,” she explained.
Ammar stressed the importance of students having practical skills to enable them to keep pace with changes in knowledge or labour market data.
“A student can learn digital marketing and be surprised the next day that Facebook has changed the way it works,” she said. “Here, a student must be able to develop himself and look for solutions from more than one aspect.”
She concluded that education methods should be skill-centred and students should be able to develop themselves, rather than just memorise theoretical information.
Practical and Academic Experiences
Miral Sabry, of the Future University in Egypt (FUE), said her institution hosts experts and makes agreements with the aim of equipping students with combined practical and academic experience.
“With over 3.5 million university students in Egypt, those who possess the skills and the ability to develop them will be able to compete and get a great job opportunity,” Sabry said.
While FUE tries to develop programmes that pay attention to the practical side, the students must work to develop themselves in order to learn more, she added.
Helping Students Choose a Career
During the panel discussion, which lasted more than an hour, Fakhry re-introduced the idea that career planning should be included in the basic education level in schools. She explained that students need the information to help them determine their options for joining a literary or a scientific major while still in high school.
“Most schools lack career planning as a very important part of school life,” she said. “The majority of students make their choices based on the family’s desire, while a small percentage have the opportunity to obtain more information in this regard.”
Ammar also thinks that choosing a future profession remains a difficult question for students. “The majority do not have an answer to that,” she said. “Those who have a specific hobby or a definitive answer to the question are lucky.”
“My advice to students is to try everything, engage in exercises, and attend a variety of events,” she said. “Universities are working to facilitate these things, and the student should help himself to experiment. I advise all students, who do not know what they want, to talk to their friends, colleagues, and teachers.”
For her part, Sabry criticised campaigns that call on students not to enrol in humanities and social science faculties like media, economics, or political science, and push them to enrol in more practical faculties instead. Each major has opportunities in the future, she said, citing her past experience in academia and media.
“With over 3.5 million university students in Egypt, those who possess the skills and the ability to develop them will be able to compete and get a great job opportunity.”Miral Sabry, vice dean of the Faculty of Economics and Political Science at Future University in Egypt.
“There should not be campaigns about students’ choices based on what is broadcast in the media,” she said. “No country can exist without politicians or media professionals.”
Sabry thinks that education systems face very big challenges, in terms of offering job-related programmes. She praised the specialised programmes and specific courses offered at Egypt’s private universities. She added that the old curricula in media and journalism faculties will disappear and be replaced by more advanced programmes.
In response to a question from Nadia El-Gowely, executive director of Al-Fanar Media, about the opportunities for career development centres in Egyptian universities to provide services to graduates of intermediate institutes, to help them develop their capabilities and enter the labour market, Fakhry said that the centres were working with civil society organisations and schools in the Egyptian governorates to offer awareness programs. She explained that when the number of centres increases, in the coming years, it will be possible to provide the services more broadly to those who need them.
At the conclusion of the discussion, Ammar reiterated the call for students to try all learning opportunities, noting that skills-building courses, in all fields, are available online, and mostly free of charge, for anyone who owns a computer and has an Internet connection.
“You must experiment, as you will not be able to make a decision without experimenting,” she said. “Do not fear failure, the learning journey is a circular path and not a straight line.”
Sabry agreed. “Every student should work to build and acquire skills, know what they wants, and then work to develop themselves,” she said. “To a greater extent, students will acquire more knowledge from outside the university.”
Al-Fanar Media’s discussion panels are organised periodically with academic experts and specialists to discuss issues of interest to the higher education and the scientific research community in the Arab world.
- Academic Counseling Can Help Students in a Critical Task: Choosing a Major
- Egypt Boosts Efforts to Make Sure Students Are Ready for the Labour Market
- Job Prospects After Graduation Are Key in Egyptian Students’ Choice of a Major