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Mix Of Over-Qualification And Brain-Drain In the Middle East

Lack of available jobs for skilled workers prompting many to leave the region

Israel has been dubbed the “start-up nation,” a high-tech powerhouse in the Middle East that has attracted foreign investment due to its technological advancments. As an OECD country, Israel also has many high-qualified workers in professions outside of high-tech—a surplus of them in some cases.

“There are three times more lawyers per 1,000 people than in most developed countries,” Eitan Regev, a researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute, told The Media Line.

This trend has resulted in extreme competition for some professions and a lack of interest in others.

According to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, examples in 2016 of professions with high levels of employment were the health and social work sector along with the scientific and technical job market, which employed 379,130 and 235,390 people, respectively. Low levels of employment were found in the arts and entertainment industry and public utilities field, which employed 65,131 and 26,452 workers, respectively.

Hana Wimberley, a senior recruiter at Urban Recruits, told The Media Line that job seekers are largely pursuing junior positions in marketing and start-up businesses. By contrast, jobs with elements of physical labor, hospitality and trade are not coveted.

“A lot of corporations today want workers who are fit for international business,” said Wimberley. As such, popular professions desire that candidates be proficient in English, have good computer skills and understand the nuances of Western culture.

Gulf Talent is a recruitment agency working with over 8,000 companies in the Gulf states—mostly from the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Qatar—as well as some in Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan.

The field of engineering overwhelmingly had the most positions available, followed by other high-qualified jobs such as management, software development, finance, accounting and marketing. Job vacancies in the oil, healthcare and banking professions were similarly on the rise, whereas service-orientated jobs in the security and environment sectors were in low demand.

Laurence Khairallah, president of Lebanese recruiting company Dynamic Recruit, told The Media Line that demand for certain jobs was exceeding availability, especially those sought by educated and well-trained individuals. He added that a large portion of the Lebanese population was disinterested in labor-intensive professions.

“It’s the culture. People like to dress up and look good,” said Khairallah.

Likewise, Iran Talent, had the highest number of job openings in engineering, with accounting and finance coming a distant second. Service-oriented jobs in the hospitality industry had the fewest number of positions.

Brain-drain in the Middle East

Nevertheless, educated students and trained professionals appear to be increasingly favoring the international market. Whether from Syria, Iraq and Yemen, or more stable countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Morocco, Middle Easterners are leaving the region in droves.

Saudi Arabia was the fourth-leading country in terms of the number of international students it sends to the United States, while Iran and Kuwait were in the top 25 in 2017, according to Open Doors. Saudi Arabia and Iran were the countries with the largest percent increase in immigrants living in the United States since 2010, according to the Center for Immigration Studies.

“If you have the slightest chance to [work somewhere else], you would leave the Gaza Strip. And you see the same thing in Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon,” Alex Coman, a professor at Tel Aviv University, told The Media Line. Accordingly, he noted that there is a lack of skilled workers in these countries in the healthcare, engineering and management professions.

Yet, many of these nations appear capable of partially leveraging the brain-drain problem by continuing to rely heavily on their oil industries.

Main problems of these labor markets

“The main problem of the Israeli economy is productivity, and the main cause for the low productivity is the mismatch between the composition of human capital and the needs of the labor market,” Eitan Regev from the Israel Democracy Institute told The Media Line.

Other labor shortages in the Middle East are closely related to political instability, which results in security issues and an overall low standard of living. “We have many trained engineers and medical students who want to be doctors, but there is no job for them because of the bad state of the economy,” said Khairallah of Dynamic Recruit.

“Looking at Gaza, [for example], electricity is scarce, water is scarce and terrorism is common,” said Coman. “Entrepreneurship and initiative are destroyed in the beginning unless you are wealthy enough to bribe the bureaucracy,” he added.

Hana Wimberley stressed that it was important to facilitate access to the marketplace to immigrant workers who fill labor jobs. Indeed, the lack of diversity in professions is a major problem in many Middle Eastern countries.

Moreover, Coman asserted, “If women are not integrated into the economy, then half the potential workforce is erased.” This, he added, would be devastating for any country’s economy.

(David Lee is a Student Intern in The Media Line’s Press and Policy Student Program)