Wednesday, November 19, 2008

[Syria] Economy Drives Away Young Professionals

Economy Drives Away Young Professionals
Damascus Team

DAMASCUS -- Everyone knows that employment opportunities in Syria are scarce, especially for students and recent graduates. More and more graduates are entering a job market with little opportunity to work in their area of study. To explore this issue, we met with students at Damascus University and asked them about their experiences (or lack thereof) with employment, wages, and working abroad.

Mohammad is a graduate student at the mechanical institute. We asked him about the availability of employment opportunities after graduation. "Graduates of the mechanics institute can usually find job opportunities. If you can't find a job in the public sector there is usually something to apply for in the private sector. However, I will tell you frankly that wherever you go for a job there is cronyism and nepotism. It is difficult for a regular graduate like me to get a job in the government without any connections."

"Many graduates were forced to move abroad to search for work due to the lack of employment opportunities here," continued Mohammad. "The unfortunate trend today is that students become desperate and accept work that doesn't relate to their field of study. In addition, many students don't take jobs in their field because of low pay, and instead settle for a higher paying job in an unrelated field. If the opportunity is available, many student and graduates travel to the Gulf region in order to find a job that relates to their degree."

Said, a student who works as a painter, also told us about the lack of a merit based system. "Job opportunities are little to none for university students. Today, learning a craft is more beneficial than studying at the University. It is much easier to earn a certificate in a craft and get a job in the private sector. This type of work will earn you 20 to 25 thousand pounds [SYP], compared to the public sector which pays only around six thousand pounds. Not to mention that it is impossible to be hired in the public sector without connections."

We also asked Said about job opportunities abroad and he told us, "My goal is to travel to the Gulf region after I graduate in order to find a good job. If salaries improve at all I will stay here, but the opportunities are much better outside the country."

Another student, Samr, sells fruit in addition to being enrolled in university classes. He agreed with the lack of job opportunities, adding, "There aren't many jobs for graduates and with the price of rent the way it is today, things are very hard. Just to commute to school today cost us 500 SYP (about $10) and the university refuses to compensate us."

Samr continued: "The best chance to get a job after graduation is to study in the Faculty of Education. I can have a guaranteed government job after graduating. Although the salary of any government job is pretty low, I can't stay at the university any longer because of my financial situation."

Regarding working in another country, Samr noted, "Travel to the Gulf region is very attractive and tempting for students because of the high salaries. For example, the best salary available here is around 20 thousand pounds, and I'm talking about someone who has been in their profession for some time. However, in the Gulf, salaries begin around 50 thousand pounds. Nonetheless, students still have to consider factors like being alienated from friends and family and adjusting to a new society and surrounding. If I can find a job here that pays around 15,000 SYP I will stay; I can't handle being away from home and the loneliness I would experience abroad."

It is fair to say that the concerns expressed by these students are representative of what the majority of students in Syrian universities are facing. Employment opportunities are simply not available for most graduates. Not only is there a deficiency of jobs but also there aren't enough institutions being created to fuel more job openings. More and more students see working abroad as their only solution, which means that there are fewer and fewer young professionals in Syria, compounding an already serious "brain drain" problem throughout the country.

Some of the names of our contributors have been changed to protect their identity.  The names of people interviewed have also been changed. The opinions expressed in our regional pieces reflect the beliefs of their writers, and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs or opinions of the Tharwa Foundation and its members.

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