Opening Doors to Employment Possibilities for Palestinian Youth

Bethlehem University students visit local Palestinian company
Bethlehem University students visit local Palestinian company

When Palestinian students graduate, they can be proud in the knowledge that they have completed their formal studies in a system of education recognized throughout the Middle East for its high quality. But when the graduation celebrations are over, Palestinian students face the same question that students all around the world face: What can I do now?

Palestinian graduates and potential employers have long noted the gap between what students learn in school and what companies and institutions are looking for in their new hires. Through support to activities implemented by the International Youth Foundation’s Youth Entrepreneurship Development program, USAID is helping to ensure that Palestinian students will increasingly have the ability and the confidence to seamlessly cross that gap from the classroom into the workplace.

Institutional Level Capacity Building

There is no quick fix for getting students prepared for the workforce. As such, the program supports a number of activities in order to approach the challenge from several different angles.

At the institutional level, the program has been working to strengthen the capacity of youth-serving institutions to provide employability programs that meet the needs of young people and improve their chances of finding jobs or starting successful enterprises. The process starts with an in-depth, participatory assessment of each organization’s existing capacity in order to guide the preparation of a capacity-strengthening plan. Participating organizations attend interactive training sessions, make site visits to relevant USAID-funded activities, attend technical clinics and receive specially tailored coaching sessions.  After completing this process, participating organizations submit proposals to receive support for youth employability, entrepreneurship, or service learning activities.

Ninety-four percent of participants found the process beneficial to their professional development. Baha Al Khatib, the Project Coordinator for Community and Rural Development in Juhoud, reflected: “The topics presented and discussed during the program were very beneficial, both on a cognitive and practical level, for designing development programs. We hope to continue to work together to maximize this benefit.”

Doa Wadi, Executive Director for the Business Women’s Forum, feels their entire organization benefitted from participating. “The training was a great experience for our staff. They learned to do assessments of other ongoing projects within the organization. They were able to find gaps and fix errors others could not find.  It also introduced us to the concept of service learning, a new topic for our organization which we look forward to implementing.”

Time to “Start Work”

While Palestinian youth are eager to explore opportunities, many don’t have a clear idea on how to get started. Recognizing this, the “Start Work” program launched by the Sharek Youth Forum provides training focused on building key skills, such as writing a CV and successfully preparing for job interviews.  Once prepared, youth get much-needed exposure to employers and employment opportunities by attending one of three job fairs organized through the program. Over six months, “Start Work” trained nearly 600 youth recruited from nine Palestinian universities. More than 400 youth and representatives of 52 private sector companies attended three jobs fairs held in Nablus, Hebron, and Ramallah. Sharek approached participating companies prior to the Job Fairs to gather their feedback about what skills they felt would be most in demand over the next two years. The strong interest shown by these firms demonstrates their willingness to support crucial job creation programs for young people in Palestine, as well as Sharek’s capacity to engage the private sector in supporting youth employability initiatives. As a result of the training under “Start Work,” 95 percent of the trainees felt they were better equipped to write a quality CV, and 86 percent felt more confident in their interviewing skills.

Fostering Entrepreneurial Spirit

Students at Bethlehem University were encouraged to think out of the box and create interesting and sustainable business ideas following a 4-month summer camp held with support from the Youth Entrepreneurship Development program, funded by USAID. Students who participated in this program received training in business, social entrepreneurship, and key life skills, such as how to communicate effectively, present a concept, and work as a team.

During the course of the summer camp, the students were introduced to the concept of service learning and participated in two service learning activities in the Bethlehem community and visited Palestinian NGOs and businesses. Local entrepreneurs served as guest speakers, inspiring students and deepening their understanding of enterprise development. Students then worked with mentors to develop either a business or social venture plan.During the course of the summer camp, the students were introduced to the concept of service learning and participated in two service learning activities in the Bethlehem community and visited Palestinian NGOs and businesses. Local entrepreneurs served as guest speakers, inspiring students and deepening their understanding of enterprise development. Students then worked with mentors to develop either a business or social venture plan.

As a result of the program, the participants learned to apply their newly-gained entrepreneurship skills to a variety of real-life situations. Orianna Salameh, a student from Bethlehem, combined her studies in business administration with her passion for the arts to organize an exhibit featuring her work and that of other students. She then developed a concept for a social venture called “Future Artists,” which involved creating a gallery in Bethlehem to promote arts education and tourism. The “Future Artists” project won the second place in the social venture plan competition. After completing the program, Orianna was offered a job teaching arts and drawing at the International Center of Bethlehem.

Two other participants, Fadi Saleh and Majdoleen Odeh, applied their management and leaderships skills to develop Bethlehem University’s Microsoft DotNet Club. While already established, the club was largely inactive until Majdoleen and Fadi applied the entrepreneurship and life skills they developed through the Summer Entrepreneurship Camp to give it new life. Over two months, Fadi and Majdoleen worked with 60 students to develop business plans for technology projects, organized three learning events for students to introduce them to various technology projects, and registered three teams of students to participate in the International Microsoft Student Partners competition.

On an organizational level, Bethlehem University also benefitted from the experience particularly in building a partnership network that will allow it to pursue youth development projects with a wider variety of stakeholders.

Meanwhile, through the “Master Class Workshops on Entrepreneurship” delivered through INJAZ-Palestine (INJAZ means “achievement” in Arabic), more than 500 teenagers from Jenin now have a sense of what it takes to develop and implement a business idea after actively participating in workshops on the process of product development and design and learning how to develop business proposals. Students then came up with ideas and worked on presenting and marketing those ideas in competitions with their classmates.

Master Class workshops were taught by volunteers from local organizations and featured guest speakers from eight local private sector enterprises.  The newly-established INJAZ office in Jenin teamed up with local organizations to facilitate these partnerships and to bring in business representatives to share their knowledge with the students. INJAZ has now established a network of partners in Jenin who have committed to contributing to similar activities in the future.

Youth were also given opportunities to experience the corporate world directly through field visits to private sector firms.  The visits provided participants with a better understanding of how companies operate. Having taken notice of INJAZ’s efforts to develop young people’s employability and entrepreneurship skills, other companies have now expressed an interest in getting involved.

Twenty field visit participants were chosen for more extensive job shadowing experience. Each was paired with an individual working in a profession of interest to the student and shadowed him/her on the job for a few days. The 14 private sector companies that participated in the job shadowing event included pharmacies, engineering offices, media companies, and attorneys’ and doctors’ offices.  The relationships between students and the professionals participating in the job shadowing activity facilitated opportunities for building long-term mentoring relationships between youth and the private sector professionals with whom they worked.

In order to continue implementing programs in Jenin following the entrepreneurship grant, INJAZ, a member of Junior Achievement worldwide, has forged strong private sector linkages throughout the West Bank and partnerships in throughout the region to secure external support for their program.  Most notably, INJAZ received a donation of 100,000 Kuwaiti dinars (about USD $360,000) from the Arab Fund to support continued operations of the Jenin office. This leveraged donation will enable INJAZ to reach even more youth in Jenin and the surrounding communities in the future.

The Youth Entrepreneurship Development Program is implemented by the International Youth Foundation (IYF) in partnership with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Mission to the West Bank and Gaza.  The program partners with universities and NGOs that work with youth in the West Bank to strengthen their ability to provide employability, entrepreneurship, and service learning opportunities for young Palestinians.

Last updated: July 07, 2014

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