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September 6, 2022

Innovation Hub: bridging the gap between Iraqi students and the job market

In efforts to bridge the gap between Iraqi higher education and the labour market, SPARK initiated the Innovation Hub project, where 54 students from three Iraqi universities had the chance to receive intensive training and create solutions to challenges proposed by local companies.

A high percentage of graduates in Iraq struggle to find employment. they graduate with a set of skills that don’t adequately equip them for the labour market. There is a  gap between the skills students are taught and the needs of the current job market.

“The most important part of empowering the youth is to actually listen to their creativity. There’s a missing link between the private sector and the academic institutions who are preparing the students for the job market. As a private sector company, it’s hard for us to find the right talent with the right academic knowledge because it’s always one of them, not both,” Rawan Al-Zaidi, Administrative Director for Nakhla.

Rawan Al-Zaidi, Administrative Director for Nakhla

In an attempt to strengthen the links between education, the training system and the labour market, SPARK with the support of the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, initiated the Innovation Hub project pilot in Erbil, Iraq.

What is the Innovation Hub, Iraq?

The Innovation Hub supports students to gain problem-solving, team and soft skills needed to work on real-life business challenges by connecting them with local companies. Companies present the young people with problems they are facing and teams of students and graduates have two months to come up with solutions in a simulation of a real-life consultancy. This pilot project worked closely with the Career Development Centres of our existing partner universities, including the University of Mosul, Northern Technical University in Mosul and Erbil Polytechnic University.

Innovation Hub: bridging the gap between Iraqi students and the job market © 2022, SPARK

Student Camp

A week-long student camp in March this year invited teams of students from each university with skills in finance, marketing and agriculture. Expert trainers worked with the students on transferable and essential skills needed to succeed in the workplace, such as teamwork, brainstorming, design thinking, creativity and innovation, presentation skills, client relationship and socially-oriented solutions. , alongside providing one introduction training to the tutors to have them aligned with the goals of the project.

Innovation Hub Student Camp in Erbil, March 2022 © 2022, SPARK
Innovation Hub Student Camp in Erbil, March 2022 © 2022, SPARK
Innovation Hub Student Camp in Erbil, March 2022 © 2022, SPARK

During the camp, SPARK collaborated with three local companies – Meraki, Nakhla, Barakat Al-Iraq – to present their challenges to the student teams who were given two months to work together to create sustainable and innovative solutions.

One of the challenges that was proposed to the students by Nakhla was creating an AI system that can measure the palm tree influence inside the environment and describe its importance based on the amount of CO2 emission it reduces from the air. 

Innovation Hub Student Camp in Erbil, March 2022 © 2022, SPARK
Innovation Hub Student Camp in Erbil, March 2022 © 2022, SPARK

Students present solutions


In May 2022, each of the student teams presented their solutions to the challenges proposed by the companies. The solutions were evaluated by a joint committee of academic tutors and companies’ based on the creativity, applicability, and social responsibility of their solutions. 

“The winning team came up with great software and perfect programming for the device we asked for but then the team in second place outperformed them with their hardware components. That’s when we decided to combine both teams together to create the ultimate solution for the challenge we gave them!” Rawan Al-Zaidi, Administrative Director for Nakhla. 

Innovation Hub Closing Event in Erbil, May 2022 © 2022, SPARK
Innovation Hub Closing Event in Erbil, May 2022 © 2022, SPARK
Innovation Hub Closing Event in Erbil, May 2022 © 2022, SPARK
Innovation Hub Closing Event in Erbil, May 2022 © 2022, SPARK
Innovation Hub Closing Event in Erbil, May 2022 © 2022, SPARK

“The Innovation Hub project was very useful. We had extensive training in design thinking and problem solving. It was a really nice experience that we started our training with them. At the same time, the materials they used were really useful,” Saja Abdullah Ghareeb, student at University of Mosul. 

By working closely with the Career Development Centres inside Iraq’s universities, connecting them with expert trainers and curricula, they can become the hub to empower students with the skills needed to take the first step in their careers. Career Development Centres offer the opportunity to create supportive networks between students, faculty staff, as well as building connections with local, national and international employers.