JEDDAH — Experts and entrepreneurs from technology startups, educational institutions, vocational centers, and development organizations have underscored the significance of linking education with careers as a way of ensuring jobs creation and youth economic empowerment.
They spoke during a seminar organized jointly by the Islamic Research and Training Institute (IRTI) and Human Development Department of the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) Group, in partnership with King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) and King Abdulaziz University (KAU), Jeddah.
Sub-themed “Linking Graduates with Careers for Youth Economic Empowerment”, the seminar was held on the sides of the 42nd Annual Meeting of the IDB Group in Jeddah, with the aim to formulate policy and strategy recommendations for creating a connection between education and labor market expectations.
The speakers stressed the importance of reforming education systems to encourage innovation and experimentation, especially in IDB countries where high youth joblessness leads to other societal ills. They also noted the need for homegrown solutions, rather than attempting to copy Western models, and for reforms instead of wholesale recreation of the systems in place.
Stephen Wilmarth of The Whitney International Project said while reforming the education systems of IDB countries is crucial, using the experience of Western countries as a template for the reform would be impracticable, given the need to consider cultural differences.
For her part, Ms. Manal Bakur Quota of the World Bank Group urged IDB countries to formulate effective education tracking systems that would give prospective university students information on available labor market opportunities for each academic program.
In the first panel session during the seminar, speakers discussed preparing students for the labor market, and developing skills that promote creativity, innovation for competitiveness, and wider social engagement. The second session focused on the practical successful case studies of what works for youth economic empowerment, as well as the link between education and skills development for start-ups creation.
Ms. Amal Dokhan of KAUST Entrepreneurship Center noted that there are hindrances to creativity in some IDB countries, including protection of the status quo through discouraging experimentation and innovation. She explained that a changed mindset is needed to boost entrepreneurship and to ensure a better future for the younger generation.
Ozan Sonmez, Managing Director of T. Jump, USA highlighted the need to think ahead given the speed of technological advancement. He said universities as they are today would cease to exist in the next decade, to be replaced by online education. “Universities will no longer be awarding diplomas; they will instead become centers of collaboration,” Sonmez explained.
Jamal Al Akkad of Saudi Aramco Business Intelligence Solutions Department spoke on the successes of the education system in Saudi Arabia in terms of linkage with careers, while Mr. Abdullah A. E. AlHarbi Director of Corporate Marketing at KAEC highlighted that “one of the major opportunities for job creation for Saudis today is blue collar jobs in the Kingdom; which is currently a 500,000 jobs’ market and will grow exponentially given the focus of Vision 2030 on driving manufacturing, entertainment & logistics industries. The key to unleashing this reducer of Saudi’s unemployment rates lies in improving the quality of the technical, vocational education & training (TVET) offering, as based on the World Economical Bank’s Human Capital Index, the Kingdom ranks in the bottom 30’s mainly because of the poor performance in this area of the educational industry, as the quality of TVET Education in Saudi ranks 60 worldwide & only 4% of secondary education graduates are TVET specialist. Thus, we should focus on the short term on building quality technical & vocational training centers (TVTCs) that will equip its graduates with the right capabilities. This is an area of focus for KAEC evidently through our Tomouh program, which is a TVET capability program that aims to integrate 5,000 Saudi males & females in the cities workforce”.
Dr. Abdullah Turkistani, Dean of KAU’s Islamic Economics Institute, called for collaboration between the market, government and universities in order to promote skills development through education. Dr. Michaela Baur, GIZ Country Director for Jordan and Lebanon, suggested solutions that include higher budgets for education and improving the quality of vocational education.
The seminar featured a presentation on the Saudi-Spanish Center for Islamic Economics and Finance (SCIEF) by Mr. Gonzalo Rodriguez. The center aims to promote entrepreneurship by, among others, encouraging innovative entrepreneurial startups.
Two award winners of SCIEF’s “What’s Out There?” competition in 2015 and 2016—Taufik Hidaya from Indonesia and Lulwa Alsoudairy from Saudi Arabia—showcased their entrepreneurial projects and the lessons derivable from their experience. Hidaya created a social enterprise that helped more than 300 poor farmers and 200 local households in an Indonesian village to have better options of selling their agricultural products. For her part, Alsoudairy founded Artistia.com, an online platform that connects buyers and suppliers of works of art. — SG