The Next Generation Of MENA Entrepreneurs

Imagine yourself trying to find a job as a fresh graduate in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Not only would you be looking for employment in one of the most tumultuous regions in the world, in challenging economic times, but you would also be competing with millions of other graduates who are looking for jobs.

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By Suhail Al-Masri


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Imagine yourself trying to find a job as a fresh graduate in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Not only would you be looking for employment in one of the most tumultuous regions in the world, in challenging economic times, but you would also be competing with millions of other graduates who are looking for jobs. Aggravating this situation, demographic projections reveal that the region's youth population will continue to surge.

To us at, these factors exhibit themselves in very real ways: the average job vacancy advertised on the website gets well over 500 applicants. This compares to barely tens of applicants that most leading job sites globally boast. While job sites all over the world compete to get applicants on their sites, invests a tremendous amount of time and effort trying to help employers make sense of the massive choice they are getting, and communicating to job seekers realistic expectations for being selected for a job.

In a recent report, and YouGov investigate the reality of the job market and employment opportunities available for fresh graduates in the MENA region. The report describes some of the obstacles fresh graduates face when looking for a job, and reveals the extent to which higher education is preparing them for the current workplace. Findings in the report demonstrate how particularly challenging it is for young job seekers across the region to secure a first job with their current skills, and why entrepreneurship could well be the solution to the youth unemployment problem in the MENA region.

Perceived motivations to hire fresh graduates

The reality of the job market for fresh graduates in the MENA

It's not news to anyone that the job market across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is a tough place. Talents are in high supply, while jobs, on the other hand, are very limited. According to the Fresh Graduates in the Middle East and North Africa Survey, July 2016, 60% of fresh graduates say it is challenging to find a first job, with half of them stating the greatest challenge standing between them and a successful career is the fact that candidates with previous work experience are preferred by employers in the region. In addition to employers preferring experienced candidates, respondents cited a lack of knowledge as to where to find relevant jobs (35%), and a lack of understanding regarding how to effectively search for jobs (32%), as the main challenges they face when trying to secure their first job.

While finding a job may be challenging, fresh graduates throughout the region are not giving in. Despite what many perceive as a "negative outlook," the largest proportion (43%) claim they will keep looking until they find a job in their industry of choice. Nevertheless, results also point to a pragmatic youth, with one in every five (21%) fresh graduates surveyed across the region claiming they will start looking for a job in another industry, and a further 16% claiming they will look for any job no matter the industry. Unfortunately, the majority (61%) of fresh graduates surveyed across the MENA region feel they would have fared better in the job market if they had selected either a different major (32%), the same major but from a different school (11%), or both a different major and a different school (19%).

Industries perceived to hire the most fresh graduates

Related: Ten Life Lessons I Adopted At Business School

Are fresh graduates the new entrepreneurs?

Most surveyed across the MENA region have a fairly pessimistic view regarding job availability for fresh graduates, with three-quarters (73%) rating it as "low," with fresh graduates in North Africa and Jordan exhibiting least positive feelings towards the availability of jobs, and those rating job availability as either "high" or "moderate" in these countries ranging from 8% only in Jordan to 15% in Morocco. Officially, one in four young people (aged 18-29) in the MENA region are unemployed. Unofficially, this number could be much higher, especially when considering the large prevalence of informal unemployment and underemployment in the region. With such diminished job prospects, an emphasis on youth entrepreneurship in the MENA is imperative. If young people cannot find jobs, they should be able to create their own, and ideally generate jobs for others.

Good news is,'s research has shown over and over again that people in the MENA are more interested in running their own business than being employed. Unlike previous generations, for many millennials, climbing the corcorporate ladders isn't a goal they are struggling to attain. Actually, eight in 10 fresh graduates said they might be turning their backs on the traditional career path soon and instead become owners and runners of their own business.

Avenues pursued to find first job

Whether due to the economy or something else, it is clear that entrepreneurship in the MENA region has grown. In terms of future aspirations, 39% of fresh graduates are actively considering setting up their own business; 41% may consider it.

These findings mirror a survey in partnership with Stanford University, which showed that in every Arab country surveyed, about 40% of respondents expressed interest in being self-employed, with 50% of them saying that they started a business because they wanted greater independence.

The final word

Stimulating entrepreneurship is intrinsic to creating both sustained economic value and jobs, and it is clear that this goal has become of increasing importance in the Middle East and North Africa for creating stability and common prosperity, especially for the youth, with youth entrepreneurship being of particular importance. Members of this generation of fresh grads have proven to be innovative and great at analyzing and solving problems, reducing a certain amount of risk by increasing the probability that employers will be able to quickly recover their onboarding costs. While most of these young job seekers firmly believe that their lack of experience is what is jeopardizing their job search, results from our research into the MENA region's employment sector disagree with that assumption. The truth is, employers are increasingly tapping into the graduate talent pool, and the proof is, where hundreds of entry-level jobs are advertised on the website every day.

Related: The Struggle Is Real: The Middle East Has A Skills Gap Crisis

Get smart

A look at the tools offers to develop your skills offers multiple options and various streams that can both help graduates develop their skills as aspiring entrepreneurs or job market entrants, as well as help employers identify the skills of a candidate for a specific role. Courses

Learning new skills and adding them to your CV is a great way to highlight your expertise to employers. Courses vary from soft skills to technical skills, and can prepare fresh grads for their first job. Tests

Test and qualify your skills to employers with tests. Choose tests that are related to your industry, and show employers just how capable you are with the skill set you have. Specialties

Network your way to success with Specialties. Stand out from the crowd by connecting with industry peers and employers, discussing important topics, asking and answering questions, and gaining know-how and expertise within your industryall for free.

Related: Millennials In The Middle East: How To Understand, Foster Leadership, And Manage Your New Workforce

Suhail Al-Masri

VP of Sales,

Suhail Al-Masri is the VP of Employer Solutions at Al-Masri has more than 20 years of experience in sales leadership, consultative sales, account management, marketing management, and operations management. His mission at goes in line with the company's mission to empower people with the tools and knowledge to build their lifestyles of choice.

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