It is surprising that many employers in the Middle East tend to give undue weight to social background when recruiting young job seekers.
When the focus shifts from ability and qualifications, it can be detrimental to a less privileged candidate's job prospects.
Shahinaz Ahmad, CEO of the Education For Employment Foundation in Egypt, shared these observations based on her work with Arab job seekers at the SunGard Higher Education Middle East User Group conference last week.
The Education For Employment Foundation helps unemployed youth in the Middle East and North Africa by providing professional and technical training.
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"This basically means that for many employers, they have a perception of the social context or social background that the graduates come from and they may judge the ability of the candidate based on that," she said.
Shahinaz described an experience with an Egyptian employer who told her: "Please do not send me people from the alleys of Ain Shams [a poor area in Cairo]."
She said the employer wanted someone who dressed well, spoke well and communicated with people well but did not believe residents from this area could achieve those things.
"In poor populations it's very difficult for them to access jobs and this is where we come in to make sure the education we provide, once they graduate, is addressing the needs of employers and minimising the impact of the social stigma they face because of where they come from."
She suggested higher education and vocational institutions pay attention to this aspect of their training and education as research has shown that people place a lot of value on non-technical skills in the Arab world.
"Research has shown that the non-technical skills that are being sought relate to people being able to work with knowledge, communicate, engage in teamwork, have analytical thinking," Shahinaz said.
Few employers refer to technical skills but they are looking for people who can apply the knowledge they have at the workplace, she said.
It is also important to pay attention to the needs of young people in terms of employment.
"When you think about how incredibly connected young people are today in terms of social media, and their ability to mobilise independently, it's very daunting."
Shahinaz said youth were looking for a rootedness in their local context. She said they struggled with this and cited an example: "I asked some of our students to come up with quotations from the work they've done and all the quotes were from a Western author. When I asked them to come up with quotes that relate to the local context, or Arab or Egyptian heritage, they couldn't and said the only quotes they knew were political.
"I can see what's happening in their minds — They cannot make the connection between their home, personal, cultural and religious life to education, modernity and their job. These things occupy different spaces."
Shahinaz said it was important to bring those two aspects together for students so that they can have pride in their heritage and recognise that where they come can create the knowledge they need to move forward.