Huge debts, shallow job market and lack of support leave fresh graduates in a lurch in Qatar
- JustHere Qatar
- On June 25, 2014
The job market in Qatar is not an easy one to navigate for fresh graduates. Expatriate students find it difficult to bag a suitable job, and many have large debts to pay off; while Qataris say the Qatarisation policy is not always an advantage, writes Maimoona Rahman.
Class of 2014 had about 2,175 graduates from Qatar Foundation, Qatar University, and College of the North Atlantic-Qatar combined, with other universities like University of Calgary and Stenden University Qatar adding some more to the figure.
While some fresh graduates are already employed, others are actively seeking employment, a process that for most starts while still at university.
Most universities in Qatar have coordinated internship programmes with various companies across the country, and internships are a graduation requirement for some programmes. Regetha Regunath, a recent graduate of Texas A&M University at Qatar, recounts that her hunt for internships was mostly a pleasant experience, especially because TAMUQ was supportive. The Student Engineers’ Council, in conjunction with the Academic Services Office at TAMUQ, organise career fairs and networking events annually that bring together a range of oil and gas companies looking to recruit graduates and hire interns. Regunath says, “A lot of internships are acquired this way,” and goes on to further praise TAMUQ for starting HireQatar, an online career portal where students can apply for listed vacancies.
Ismat Zerin, a student of Stenden University Qatar, says that her university arranges for students to intern every semester, and although the university does not provide any further career services, these internships go a long way in helping students secure employment. But, Sarosh Sohail, a recent graduate from the College of Business at Qatar University, laments that such coordinated internships can often backfire. She explains that companies usually hire student interns because of a contract or partnership with a university, but when it comes to training interns, they are indifferent. She also says from personal experience that some companies do not even reply to emails from hopeful interns even if they have a partnership with the university.
“Sometimes regret going to QF and paying so much money for an education that doesn’t have much value in Qatar job market.”
The opportunities internships present with respect to employment are not equal. One TAMUQ graduate from the class of 2010 and a current employee of RasGas had to wait almost a year for the right job although she had interned at several companies as an undergraduate. She was worried that she, like some of her peers, would settle for jobs with either a compromised salary or a job title that did not do justice to her degree. She says that almost every relevant exhibitor at the Qatar Career Fair had turned her away “because they were hiring only Qataris,” and only a handful of companies were polite enough to file her résumé.
Qatarisation, the flip side
One common complaint among expatriate students is that while their hunt for internships and employment lasts longer, Qatari students easily find both in oil and gas industries and ministries. Qatarisation aims to have a fifty per cent national workforce in the energy and industry sector, but Mahmoud Hammad (name changed) says Qatarisation is not exactly working for Qataris the way non-Qataris imagine. He says that when he interned at Vodafone as an undergraduate, his supervisor and trainer never trained him or assigned him tasks. “Non-Qatari interns were not treated like that,” he said. According to Vodafone’s Instragram, they hope to be the “most admired workplace for Qataris,” but when Vodafone offered Hammad a job immediately after he graduated, he turned it down because he wanted to actually work. His Qatari friend quickly quips, “some employees, especially non-Qatari Arabs, feel threatened that young Qataris will take their jobs, so they do not train us.”
Arij Bouajila, Unit Head of Employer Relations in the Career Services Centre at Qatar University, believes that Qatarisation does not deserve a bad rap among expatriate students. Currently 75 companies have teamed up with Qatar University, and Bouajila says that while they will hire Qataris where they can, they will never run out of jobs for non-Qataris. “Look at any company,” she says, “and tell me how many Qataris and non-Qataris you see.”
Most top companies now approach universities to nominate graduates for vacancies. Bouajila says this is a year-round process. Universities at Education City and Qatar University organise on-campus interviews making it easier for students and recent graduates to not just secure employment but also to network.
Paying off huge debts vs finding the right job
Universities at Qatar Foundation have extensive financial aid plans for students who otherwise cannot afford studying at QF. But upon graduation, the need to pay off these loans may often mean making compromises on job satisfaction.
An alumna of Carnegie Mellon University-Qatar who graduated in 2011says that CMU-Q helped her build her résumé, but she had to bear the sole responsibility of finding a job. Although she had doubts about accepting her first job, she did not have much choice because she had student loans to repay. She has already changed jobs twice and claims that for her, “right job” has become an ambiguous term that depends on too many variables.
A graduate of Northwestern University-Qatar from the class of 2012 sought the right job instead of trying to clear her debt. She agreed to be interviewed, but anonymously because she is yet to discuss payoff plans with QF. Currently working with a local publication, she “sometimes regret(s) going to QF and paying so much money for an education that doesn’t have much value in Qatar job market.”
“[The] smartest cookies will sell themselves short in the process of finding a job.”
The very process of reapplying for financial aid annually and worrying about whether the university would cut off aid before graduation was a nightmare for her, more so since she knew of at least two students who left NU-Q without completing their studies because QF had rejected their application for financial aid. The nightmare still continues as she has incurred over QR100,000 in debt, and she assumes it will take her about 10 years to pay it off. But first, she wants to have a stable career and pay her way through a Master’s degree. “Once you’ve graduated, you are on your own,” she says commenting on how helpful NU-Q career services are, “so you have to sort out your own student loan issues without expecting help from the university.”
She adds that working government jobs allows for easier and structured payoff plans, but for people like her who chose the private sector, “there’s much to worry about.”
According to Qatar Foundation FAQs on financial aid, graduates have two options to repay loans: through monthly installments which are 15% of the graduate’s total income or by working for an organisation approved by the QF for 1-6 years. Loans are due six months after graduation. This leaves little room for students to explore their career options, gearing them towards one that will help them clear their debts.
“Some employees, especially non-Qatari Arabs, feel threatened that young Qataris will take their jobs, so they do not train us.”
Should you settle?
The labour market in Qatar has a huge demand for mostly Engineering, Business, and Mass Communication graduates as Qatar tries to realise Qatar National Vision 2030 and prepare for World Cup 2022. Yet, not all students from these fields find jobs instantly after graduation, leaving students of other majors in an even precarious position.
According to Bouajila, graduates with degrees in Shariah and Islamic Studies, Arabic Language and Literature, History, and Geography are rarely in demand in Qatar even if they have an excellent academic record. These graduates often have to settle for alternate careers.
Bouajila says that settling for alternate jobs is often better than waiting too long for the right job, more so to avoid any gaping employment gaps in the CV. According to her, employers are turned off by years that might have been spent idle than working an alternate job. She adds that sometimes graduates from fields that are less in demand have to be trained in transferable skills like communication in English, Photoshop, building websites, and making videos so that they can at least apply for alternate jobs. Bouajila herself started off as an administrative assistant for Aspire-Academy for Sports Excellence when she was still an undergraduate and was later promoted to Events Coordinator.
Bouajila further goes on to share the story of a graduate of Islamic Studies in Qatar, who wound up as a teller at Qatar National Bank, where his field of study was irrelevant. He learnt English to move up at QNB and was first promoted to customer service staff and after a few years to branch manager. This story, Bouajila believes, illustrates that even alternate careers have the capacity to be rewarding.
Bouajila’s tip for students is to look for ways of self-improvement and gain as much experience through part-time jobs and internships as possible. Experience, she believes, can trump even a poor GPA. She adds that recent graduates must be more “open-minded” towards alternate jobs. But, a former assistant professor of Qatar University who wishes to remain unnamed, worries that his “smartest cookies will sell themselves short in the process of finding a job.”
Photo courtesy: Joey Coleman on Flickr
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