News and Events

Fareed Al Abdulla Discusses Challenges of Youth Unemployment in Dubai

Development brochure April 2004 — Youth unemployment is one of the major challenges facing Middle Eastern economies. The ranks of the unemployed include many - in some countries disproportionately many - with secondary and higher education. This is even leading some experts to review their expectations about the gains that they hoped would follow from the expansion of educational opportunities in the region. One problem is that young graduates still believe that a diploma means a guaranteed government job. This expectation can be quite durable even when it is no longer supported either by the policies or by the fiscal abilities of their governments. The belief is so enduring that some economists term the unemployment of educated young adults in the Middle East as being to a significant degree "voluntary". Continuing to live with their natal families, these young graduates are waiting for a suitable position of sufficient status and comfort to open up, instead of pursuing alternative possibilities. Some regional governments are trying to change this mentality and to foster a more entrepreneurial spirit among the young.

In Spring 2004, IMEY looked at one such model, the "Small and Medium Enterprise Development Section" of the Dubai Department of Economic Development.

Researcher Fareed Al Abdulla describes his mission - to turn the young Emiratis of prosperous Dubai into aggressive seekers of jobs and opportunities - as a challenging one. It requires, in his words, "finding ways to make people feel hungry when their bellies are full." The program has four core components. First, it seeks to publicize the example of successful young entrepreneurs who can serve as role models. Secondly, under the auspices of his colleague Hessa Buhmeid, it specifically targets young Emirati women, whose impressive educational accomplishments are thus far failing to translate into productivity, jobs and business. Third, young potential entrepreneurs are equipped with the necessary skills to open a small business, through a series of 3-day and 10-day seminars that teach them how to do a feasibility study, develop a business plan, set up a pricing and accounting system and more. Fourth and most ambitiously, his office is looking at ways to change attitudes about work in general. The current labor market in the UAE relies heavily on imported foreign labor for physical work, technical skills and the service sector including tourism. This will not change unless nationals and their families reform their attitudes. "We can't forever plan to have an economy in which every Emirati citizen just sits behind a desk."