Unemployment and underemployment, especially for young people throughout the world continues to maintain a critical gap in the global economy. As technology rapidly changes how we live and the jobs of tomorrow remain an unknown, it is crucial for society to ensure education, training, entrepreneurship, and opportunities catch up and fall in alignment with the greatest needs of a rapidly changing environment.
According to the report titled, World Social and Employment Outlook – Trends 2018, prepared by the ILO, young people under the age of 25 today are less likely to find work than adults.
In total, the global youth unemployment rate remains at 13%, which is three times higher than the figure for adults, coming in at 4.3%. The lack of employment is one of the most significant concerns of our time especially during accelerated changes with many unknowns.
According to the World Bank Group, the Middle East and North Africa regions face some of the most challenging youth unemployment conditions today. Although a young labor force can represent a source of great potential, many countries in the region struggle to create opportunities for young people immediately out of high school.
One organization, Silatech, is looking to change these potential outcomes.
Silatech is an international, social development non-profit, non-government organization with programs and operations that have a presence in 17 countries across the Middle East and North Africa. The organization has a reputation for promoting large-scale job creation, entrepreneurship, access to capital and markets.
Ms. Sabah Al-Haidoo is the CEO of Silatech. Since 2008, the organization has created innovative and strategic programs to fill this gap helping youth with job skills, making connections, training, and entrepreneurship opportunities.
In 2022, the organization plans on sharing their results that empower youth through work and high-level economic growth in societies to enhance security, stability and progress within the region.
In this interview which has been edited and condensed, I chat with Ms. Al-Haidoo about Silatech’s program, their partnerships, success and goals for the future.
Robyn Shulman: Can you please share your education background with us?
Ms. Sabah Al-Haidoo: I hold a Master’s of Public Policy, a Bachelor of Education and Science degree (specializing in mathematics and physics), and an advanced school administration degree.
My knowledge and skills are not limited to my academic degrees, as my curiosity and passion for learning from life situations and experiences since childhood grew in parallel to class learning.
Shulman: Why did you go into education?
Al-Haidoo: My passion is inspiring young people and helping them prepare for their future. Educators are often the most impactful people in a young person’s life.
Shulman: Can you elaborate on your thoughts regarding the power of education?
Al-Haidoo: I firmly believe in the power of education, and I do not doubt that education is the source of prosperity and a decent life.
Shulman: How do you see yourself as an educator?
Al-Haidoo: I envision myself complementing the humanitarian side of the teacher’s role with value-building and upbringing aspects of the educator’s role. I want to satisfy students’ needs to acquire knowledge and their need to develop and evolve enjoyably.
Shulman: What was the motivation behind joining Silatech?
Al-Haidoo: I followed my heart to Silatech. It was a continuation of my work as an educator. Silatech provides an opportunity to make a difference, and help many young people get jobs.
We also work with partner organizations that believe in our mission to empower and inspire youth to transform their lives for the better and lead the change in their communities.
Shulman: Can you tell me your thoughts regarding education, innovation and empowering youth today?
Al-Haidoo: Education and the empowerment of youth are integrated, and we can’t look at them as two separate sectors.
Without economic and social empowerment of young people after graduating high school, education won’t be as useful. Investing in innovative educational solutions and tools at the grassroots level is a worthwhile venture because it is the conduit to economic opportunities when all enabling factors align.
Shulman: You co-led education reform initiatives that brought about a culture of change in the educational community.
Can you tell me what a typical school day looked like for the average student before these landmark changes?
Al-Haidoo: The students were taught a rigid curriculum emphasizing rote learning with unclear goals that lacked standards and international benchmarks.
Shulman: How has that changed today?
Al-Haidoo: Education today focuses on diversity and makes the student the center of the education focus.
The educator must act as a facilitator and work with students according to their own abilities-while respecting and appreciating individual differences. Educators must believe that each student is unique, and can contribute to developing students’ knowledge and talents.
With these principles in the back of our mind, we designed a daily school plan.
Shulman: Silatech has created over 1 million jobs for young people. How did you scale such an incredibly grand initiative?
Al-Haidoo: We realized that we couldn’t do it alone; we knew we needed to create vast partnerships that connect the private and public sectors to work together to solve the youth unemployment epidemic.
Shulman: Can you tell me more about your partnerships and the impact in the region?
To date, we have created over 300 international, regional, and local partnerships, and we plan to expand this number as we move forward into 2019 and beyond.
Silatech works through international, regional, and local partners to develop comprehensive programs, which are implemented through local partners to sustain performance, transfer expertise, and develop competencies.
Shulman: How do you implement these training programs for young people?
Al-Haidoo: We work with training providers to equip youth with the technical skills they need to be employable for entry-level positions. We have also developed mechanisms and programs to connect job seekers to jobs.
Shulman: How many countries do you currently work with today?
Al-Haidoo: Our work covers 17 countries, mostly in conflict-ridden areas. Therefore, our work can vary among different locations.
Shulman: In your opinion, where have you made the most significant impact?
Al-Haidoo: We’ve made a significant impact in a short period of time in Oman.
Shulman: How so?
Al-Haidoo: Since 2016, we’ve helped to train and mentor over 3,500 young people and helped 579 young people get jobs. In Tunisia, since inception until the second quarter of 2018 we have connected 276,600 young men and women with job opportunities, granting them and their families a decent livelihood and steady income.
Shulman: Silatech also focuses on youth entrepreneurship in the Middle East and Africa. Can you tell me about this sector of your organization and the impact on young people?
Al-Haidoo: High youth-unemployment levels in Africa and the Middle East have been an ongoing problem in several countries. We help young entrepreneurs overcome the most significant barriers to entry.
Shulman: How do you support them?
Al-Haidoo: This support can include access to loans, financial assistance, technical training, mentorship, and gaining access to the international marketplace.
Shulman: How do you achieve these goals?
Al-Haidoo: We achieve our objectives through two main tools: entrepreneurship and micro-finance. Both tools include financial and non-financial services. Most financial institutions in the region view working with young entrepreneurs as too risky.
However, we always find solutions to that concern by working with our financial partners through agreements that tackle all these issues.
We also realize the importance mentorship plays in the development of successful entrepreneurs. Therefore, we are helping align young entrepreneurs with mentors who can help them build their businesses.
Shulman: If you could see the future of youth regarding employment and entrepreneurship, what would the most optimal outcome look like to you?
Having helped to develop over 1 million jobs in our first decade was a milestone we are very proud of today.
Now, we see an opportunity to accelerate what we have been doing to help even more young people. We have ambitious plans to secure jobs for millions of youth in the near future.
We envision a world of gender equality in education, jobs, and economic opportunities. Silatech’s programs target youth of both genders without discrimination, in addition to tailoring some projects to empower vulnerable victimized and disabled women and youth.
Shulman: How do you think the education ecosystem can best prepare young people for unknown jobs of the future?
Al-Haidoo: Many hiring managers and companies say that young people are not coming out of school with the skills they need to fill their entry-level positions.
At Silatech, our training programs emphasize helping young people obtain those skills. To accomplish this, we contact hiring managers and have open dialogues with them so we can understand the skills they need from candidates.
Shulman: Can you tell me about your partnership with Microsoft?
Al-Haidoo: To fulfill our mission in facilitating students and young people’s access to training and employment opportunities, Silatech and Microsoft launched Ta3mal, an innovative online platform in 2012, which helps youth enter the labor market.
Shulman: How does the platform work?
Al-Haidoo: The platform creates a direct link between employers and young job seekers; thus helping institutions and companies obtain employees, and provides young people with training opportunities as well as a platform to apply for jobs.
The platform is available in Arabic, English, and French. It also provides access to career guidance, soft skills, e-learning, internships opportunities, and entrepreneurship training.
We rely on local partners to provide specialized content.
In each localized portal, we connect youth to physical career centers that include innovative programs complementing the services available on the portal.
Shulman: What about ongoing career guidance?
Al-Haidoo: Within Ta3mal, students can utilize a career-guidance platform called Tamheed (which means perpetration in Arabic). The program includes online psychometric assessments, a career-advising framework, and training and capacity-building for career advisors.
Shulman: How are people accessing and using the portal in the best way?
Al-Haidoo: Educators and people who work with youth can be trained to become Tamheed advisors in less than a week, creating a large pool of certified advisors offering personalized advice based on scientific reports. Employers can use the results of psychometric assessments in selecting candidates, and match skills with the right jobs and internships.
Shulman: What exciting plans are in store for Silatech in 2019?
Al-Haidoo: We are excited to be celebrating our 10th anniversary on March 4 in Geneva, Switzerland. Silatech was founded by Her Highness Sheika Moza Bin Nasser who also serves as the Chairperson.
Ten years on, Silatech has created one million employment opportunities for youth across the MENA region, restoring hope and empowering one million young men and women by granting them and their families financial security, stability, and prosperity.
The event program includes an opening speech by Her Highness Sheika Moza Bin Nasser, and a keynote speech by a prominent UN figure.
Shulman: What will you discuss during this panel?
Al-Haidoo: During the panel discussion, we will also hear from international thought leaders who will join forces to examine the challenge of youth unemployment from a global perspective. We will also hear from leading industry experts who will discuss ways of unifying global efforts to empower marginalized youth.
The event will conclude with an exhibition that will showcase the myriad challenges the youth face today, stories of lives empowered through Silatech’s work, and highlight the essential role of global collaboration and established partnerships for the empowerment of youth and the betterment of societies.
Shulman: Finally, where can we follow your work online and how can others get involved?
Al-Haidoo: All information about Silatech is in our exhibition at the Silatech Announcement Event titled “Empowering Youth, Transforming Societies.”
The event, which will be held under the patronage of Her Highness Sheika Moza Bin Nasser will take place in Geneva, Switzerland, on Monday, March 4, 2019, at 9:30 am at the International Conference Centre Geneva.
Shulman: Thank you for sharing your story with us.