I’ve been in Jordan for several weeks as the head of a workforce development project, and it is clear that there are critical challenges in promoting the vocational and technical skills sectors. This is a national issue, involving youth from many backgrounds. Although unemployment among youth is highest among university graduates, the lack of Jordanians working in sectors that require semi-skilled and skilled workers deprives the country of young people, men and women, working in jobs available in manufacturing, services, transportation, hospitality, and other fields. When these jobs are filled by imported labor, their remittances are sent to their home countries and the Jordanian economy is the loser.
Young people, from 18-28, are the populations focused on in The Jordan Workforce Development Project, whether or not they have passed al Tawjihy, the national secondary school exam that determines one’s higher education options. What is needed are young Jordanians who want to work and are willing to consider options including professional skills such as electricians and auto technicians as well as service skills including carpentry, plumbing, food services, and healthcare. In addition, there are many jobs for those with a limited skill-set who can work in manual and semi-skilled employment in maintenance, sanitation, waste management, and household support. This is true for young men and women.
A common notion widespread in reports and reporting is the “culture of shame” argument that has female and male versions. For young women, there are by cultural pressures from their families and society that prevent them from accepting certain types of jobs, and may in fact keep them out of the labor market all together. The male version defines certain jobs as unworthy of young men who want to marry because a low-skilled job hurts their opportunities to find that special someone…
The reality is a bit less harsh. I have spoken with labor experts who have conducted studies that show that salary, security, safety, and satisfaction overcome whatever qualms one might have pursuing certain job categories. One only needs to look at Jordanians in the Gulf to see that they are willing to work at a variety of vocational and technical jobs, if they are paid sufficiently.
The same is true for women. Satellite textile factories that employ only Jordanian women are becoming the hot option for girls that want to work and need their families’ support. Through awareness campaigns that introduce the families to the facilities, training by Jordanian instructors, and transportation that solves getting to work issues where there is little reliable public transport, women are eager recruits.
Along with transportation issues for both young men and women, you can add health, safety, incentives such as health insurance and social security to factors that make employment more attractive to young people.
So why is matching available jobs and job seekers continuing to be a challenge? Part of it is that there is great diversity among Jordan’s governates ranging from those with well-established industries and private sectors to those that depend on agriculture and commerce for generating most jobs. For those who seek employment, salaries must cover travel costs and still provide a decent wage. Lack of awareness of job benefits such as social security, health insurance, career counseling, and similar incentives that prepare youth for a career rather than a simple job can help young people take a longer view of employment.
Oftentimes, the employer needs to face the reality that times have changed and upgrades to the working environment are both necessary and mandatory. Clean, healthy facilities, access for the handicapped, policies against discrimination and harassment, gender issues, and investing in the local workforce are also critical items.
The labor situation in Jordan has been studied for years and there are many international donors supporting Jordan’s economic growth. With so much support available and the government set to raise the minimum wage, it’s vital that youth take a fresh look at employment opportunities. What’s needed is to continue to showcase success stories of peers who have made the transition to vocational/technical careers that are paying dividends.
In Jordan, as in the US, air-conditioning technicians, plumbers, electricians, programmers, and similar positions have higher levels of compensation than low-paying white collar jobs. When families see that using one’s skills acquired through training programs may provide even a more stable and enriching future, they may have more respect for their children who chose that road to success.