November 14, 2023

Bridging the Knowledge-Skills Gap: A Path to Employment for Lebanon’s Youth

With the onset of what the World Bank has described as one of the worst economic crises since the mid-19th century, unemployment rates in Lebanon have risen to be among the highest in the Middle East. As a response to this, SPARK and Lebanese organisation ‘Al Moltaqa Goodness and Development in Akkar’ have joined forces to facilitate graduate access to employment in the country.

While recognising the need for country-wide structural reforms to address this issue,  addressing the skills gap for young graduates can foster access to gainful employment. Indeed, there is a widening gap between the knowledge young graduates have acquired at university and the skills needed to successfully integrate the modern job market. According to Dr. Azzam Hajar, the Director of the Science Faculty Branch III at the Lebanese University, “we have an excellent programme in the theoretical part, whether for computer science students or others, but [the students] still lack the needed experience to enter the job market”. 

As a part of the Skills Training Education Programme (STEP), in collaboration with the Islamic Development Bank and Abdul Aziz al Ghurair Refugee Education Fund, SPARK and Al Moltaqa launched the STEP project.  “The main objective of the STEP project is to increase the capacities of graduates to match with the job market so they are able to find jobs easily”, Engineer Mahmoud Said, Project Manager. 

To ensure that graduates were well-prepared for the job market, Al Moltaqa reached out to key economic entities. Collaborations were established with organisations such as the Chamber of Commerce, Industry, and Agriculture in Tripoli, the Special Economic Zone in Tripoli, the Order of Engineers and Architects, IRADA (representing the private sector in Beirut), and the Municipalities of Tripoli and Halba. 

In consultation with these economic entities, Al Moltaqa kicked off the Skill Up component which was implemented in universities across Lebanon. The programme offers a plethora of courses which aim to boost the transferable skills of senior students and recent graduates. Working hand-in-hand with employers, the “Skill Up” project offers a holistic approach to student employability.

The courses offered on the programme covered a wide range of topics, so as to answer to the distinctive needs of students and recent graduates. Some courses were tailored to specific fields, such as cloud computing and Artificial Intelligence (AI), while others offered more general knowledge on the job application process. For example, the “Job Search Toolkit” course, set up in collaboration with The Impact Pro (TIP), provided inductions on topics such as cover letter writing, creating a successful LinkedIn profile and interview techniques. 

Ahmad Bakkar, a computer science student at the Lebanese University, applied to the computer science bootcamp which was being held on campus. Through the bootcamp, he received extensive training in the field of computer science, which went beyond what was being taught in his classes. “What interested me the most was cloud computing,” comments Ahmed. Today, Ahmed has been accepted for an internship, where cloud computing is an integral part of his work. 

A highlight of the project was the organisation of a global conference, in partnership with the Chamber of Commerce, Industry, and Agriculture in Tripoli. This conference brought together both universities and the private sector, fostering collaboration and knowledge exchange. With more than 600 companies, business owners, senior HR managers, and representatives from higher education institutions in attendance, the event marked a significant step towards bridging the gap between academia and the job market.

The STEP Project successfully brought together universities, private sector actors, and dedicated experts, to pave the way for graduates to confidently enter the job market. Over the programme period, which consisted of 35 bootcamps, a total of 395 students enrolled and 208 students successfully attended the programme. As an outcome, 128 students secured internships, and 68 students secured paid employment. By facilitating youth access to vocational skills, we are taking a step in the right direction to address the challenging leap from education to employment and support the youth in their journey toward successful careers.