Job fair encourages Kurdistan’s pessimistic youth: 'Don't lose hope'
By A.C. Robinson
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The Rwanga Foras International Job fair 2018 and potential employers are focused on the youth, sending them a message not to lose hope, despite some job seekers lacking confidence they can land a position without a connection or because of unreasonable expectations.
Zana Ezat, is 23 and also from Erbil. The third-year computer-engineering student was searching for a job related to his major to help cover university fees.
However, he wasn't optimistic.
"Our generation has to work and try harder to get a job, but the thing is the opportunities for jobs here are not enough. They're too specific. The requirements are too high," he said.
He also felt the market is too competitive based on gender, adding that "females getting jobs over males is becoming a problem these days."
One job seeker disagreed, saying it was almost impossible to find a job unless you have a connection.
Sara Atallah, age 23 from Erbil, graduated from Ishik University with a degree in architecture this year.
"For women and newly graduated students, it's so hard to find a job," she said. "Here you have to know somebody from the source of the job to know you; you have more chance if you know somebody.
"If you don't anybody, they won't even look at your CV.”
Another new graduate, Hussein from Baghdad, agreed with Atallah.
"Many people come here looking for jobs, but unless they know someone working at the company, they won't be hired," he said.
New business graduate Rawan, 22, was optimistic about finding a job within his sector.
"I think the economy is recovering, so I think it is actually easier to get a job these days than it was four or five years ago," said Rawan, the Erbil native. "Fairs like these are also helpful and a good opportunity for people to find jobs."
Rawan is seeking a part-time job in marketing or accounting as he prepares to begin his master's degree in business management in the fall.
The Kurdistan Region has been bedeviled by financial woes for the past four years, beginning with the loss of its budget from the central government in 2014, then exacerbated by the global oil market crash in 2016, an expensive war against ISIS, hosting of 1.8 million refugees and IDPs, and the loss of Kirkuk.
This environment is made worse by a pervasive culture of 'wasta' – the use of family ties to secure work known colloquially as 'Vitamin W' – which can leave some of the smartest and most skilled on the scrapheap.
However, Dilan Botan, Human Resources Manager with MSelect in Erbil, the region's leading job placement company, believes the economy is recovering and more opportunities will be available for the youth.
"We notice from the jobs coming through our agency that the economic situation is getting better gradually," he said. "Step by step it will be better and we are optimistic for 2019."
He believes that it is important for youth to focus on improving themselves outside of their academic skills.
"The main problem is English language, which is considered as communication," he explained. "They need to develop themselves in communication, need to practice English and also need to practice more on the Microsoft Office products. This is essential, especially Outlook, Excel and Word and I am sure they will have more opportunities."
Botan also mentioned that the organizer is providing free training to new graduates such as resume writing skills and interview preparation.
"This will enhance their capabilities to have more power and confidence to interview in the future," he added.
"We are here today to show Kurdistan and the world that we are still here, life is continuous, and we have all of these companies which are offering job opportunities," said Dastan Qader Abdullah.
With an unstable economy and the government crises, Abdullah says the youth and new graduates should be optimistic in finding the job they want regardless.
"So youth, don't feel hopeless, we still have hope; for those who just graduated and are really seeking a job, this is your chance," Abdullah continued. "You can be here and maybe find the dream job you are looking for."
Thousands of jobseekers flocked to the job fair hoping to find jobs and connect with potential employers across Kurdistan and the outside world.
This is Rwanga's third job fair and he said last year it attracted over 20,000 jobseekers.
"This year it is much bigger, 119 companies participating so we are expecting 25,000-plus [jobseekers] to arrive," Abdullah added. Last year only 101 companies participated.
The CEO of Rwanga, Abdulsalam Medeni, also said they are focusing on youth and how to improve Kurdistan and the region.
"We believe, like Einstein once said 'You cannot solve the problem with the same mentality that created it,' " he explained. "So our belief that the reality we are living in in Kurdistan, in Iraq, in the Middle East is just a result and reflection of our ideas and type of relations, type of institutions, that we have. If we want to change our reality, we have to change our type of thinking and education is the main entry point."
"The vehicle for this change is mainly youth," he added.
The Rwanga Foras International Job Fair, sponsored by the Rwanga Foundation and inaugurated by Rwanga Chairman Idris Nechirvan Barzani is a two-day event at the International Fair Ground at Sami Abdul Rahman Park in the Kurdistan Region’s capital.
The job fair was sponsored by 26 companies with job booths for 119 local and international companies and organizations.
Approximately 150 volunteers also participated in helping to organize and putting together the venue over the past three-and-a-half months.
Rudaw is a media sponsor.