Career guidance for successful development in fragile contexts

Lebanon’s positive experience in helping students get quality jobs, and its applicability to countries in similar situations, was the key takeaway from the European Training Foundation’s (ETF’s) online conversation ‘Career guidance for learners in fragile contexts: an example from Lebanon’, on Thursday 24 November.

Participants with an interest in human capital development from Albania, Algeria, Georgia, Greece, Italy, and North Macedonia, among others, generated numerous searching questions for the panel from Lebanon.

The panel’s guest speakers included Houssam El Hajj, Focal Point, Central Directorate for Vocational Education and Training (VET); Elias Geagea, Guidance and Employment Officer at Institut technique Edde-Jbeil, and Kevin Akiki, former beneficiary of career guidance and currently Installation Supervisor at Jamesway chick master incubators company.

‘48% of Lebanese citizens are seeking to leave for better opportunities abroad, due largely to political instability,’ said Denise Loughran, ETF’s Communication Officer, who hosted the event. ‘How can career guidance help societies in that context?’

 Advice in situations of conflict

Students can be guided to choose the right field based on their passion and skills and the needs of the labour market, responded Geagea. This means having to get to know our students but also learning about the company’s vision, their values, and so on, so that we can identify the right opportunities for students. 

El Hajj agreed with this approach and added that in the context of economic collapse and without an elected President, a Career Guidance and Employment Officer (GEO) is fundamental to help students choose the right major, advise them about jobs that might become obsolete, and assist them in finding quality internships. This is what has been missing in Lebanon, he said.

El Hajj next detailed the process of selecting a GEO, who is often a teacher. They take on this additional responsibility free of charge, but they must also fully understand the importance of the post.

This selection process therefore takes time. In this context both the ETF and the IECD – a development assistance organisation that works in 16 countries across Africa, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region and South-East Asia – have played key roles. They have kept us updated with training and been a constant help, he said.

Private sector engagement

It was tough to involve the private sector in career guidance in the context of a country that is facing huge challenges to simply exist, the audience heard. In particular, many in schools and private companies have an ‘old mentality’, but that has not stopped Lebanon making substantial progress. ‘We created an online platform to connect students with the private sector and made contact with nearly every company in the country,’ explained Geagea. Now, however, attitudes are changing. Employers know if they hire a VET student, they have the skills and confidence to do their jobs very well.

Akiki has benefitted from both this development and specific GEO advice as a student. Because of the experience I gained in my first two posts, I found a good job locally, he said. I was tempted to move abroad but feel proud to have stayed and help rebuild my country.

In this context, El Hajj said it was well known that Lebanese graduates are targeted by private companies from other countries. We tell our students that they are valued, and we try to find attractive opportunities to stop them going abroad, he said.  

Developing company links

An Albanian teacher from the audience asked what his school could do about difficulties building relationships with the private sector.

I’m sure the problem is not with your school, responded Geagea. You should visit those companies and explain about your training programmes and why your students have the necessary skills. We have succeeded with this approach in Lebanon, he said.

‘You have been knocking at the wrong door,’ added El Hajj. Our experience is that they jump at the opportunity to have our graduates.

Guidance for success

‘Can schools give too much careers guidance?’ enquired Loughran.

‘There needs to be a balance; I start by asking why a student has chosen a particular field,’ responded Geagea. Sometimes they say it is because their parents wanted it, or they have a passion for it. But passions can change over time, so we have to also ask if they have the ability to succeed. 

‘Educational institutions must not present themselves as employment agencies,’ an audience member interjected.

‘I agree but in Lebanon, there is a gap and we have to support students,’ replied El Hajj.

He then gave an example of a student who had thought of studying accounts but swapped to graphic design when she was made aware of local labour market needs. She excelled and became the top student in Lebanon, he said.

When asked what advice the panel would give to students, Akiki had it clear: ‘Don’t be afraid to ask about anything related to jobs; any details can help.’

‘Stay positive, believe in yourself, try to make a career plan, and you will succeed,’ concluded Geagea.

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