Are you unemployed? Have you found yourself eyeing up employment opportunities in the Gulf, the US, Europe…anywhere but Lebanon? Well fear not, the Lebanese government’s very own National Employment Office (NEO) has launched a new online job finding service. NEO to the rescue, or possibly not.
Intrigued as to what kinds of opportunities are awaiting Lebanon’s scores of unemployed and underemployed – youth unemployment currently stands at around one in five – I spent an afternoon perusing the English version of the site. I concluded I would have been better off procrastinating on Facebook.
Despite dozens of searches into all kinds of bizarre and wonderful employment subcategories – in the Machine Operators and Assemblers category, for example, among the nearly 200 subcategories are jobs including photogravure operator, milk pasteurizer and vinegar maker – I found absolutely no jobs listed. Not one.
So whether your skills incline you towards computer programming or fish farming it would seem you are fresh out of luck. The style of the website was clunky and there was no option to see all jobs in a particular category – meaning the process of finding no jobs was particularly time-consuming.
As this screenshot from www.neo.gov.lb/ shows there are hundreds of sub-sections in which to search for work
Now it could be that the website isn’t fully functional yet – in which case you have to question the value of telling the media that it was. It could also be that the site is operational and Executive’s staff are not tech-savvy enough to work it out – if that’s the case then it’s hardly user-friendly. But it could also be that the whole website is set up to be a metaphor for the country’s economy – lots of promise but ultimately no jobs.
This online adventure, four years in the making by the International Labor Organization and NEO (with funding from the Canadian International Development Agency), is in principle a good idea. Increased communication between employers and the workforce – and an ease of access to labor market information – undoubtedly greases the cogs of the employment machine. Lebanon, however, is in need of more than just a smudge of axle grease.
But nomatter what you enter, the results are always the same
We are all versed in Lebanon’s great promise: a highly skilled and educated work force, a robust and well laden banking sector, a geographical and cultural juxtaposition between the Middle East and “the West” and, of course, sun, sea, mountains, and great food. But a damaging combination of structural imbalances, corrosive politics and decrepit infrastructure ensures that the departure lounge at Rafik Hariri airport remains the most promising destination for so many of Lebanon’s graduates.
The economy is highly dependent on massive inflows of capital especially in the form of petro-dollars from the Gulf and remittances from the Lebanese diaspora. Among the many affects of this is an upward push on the prices of non-tradable goods and services, which only serves to make life more unaffordable and domestic industries less competitive.
What is more, as money flows into the final stages of production and distribution, which are predominantly low value-added, this is where jobs are also created. The preponderance of low paid and low skilled jobs does little to nurture Lebanon’s domestic workforce as they are often over qualified and will in most cases be undercut by imported workers.
A mixture of political obstructionism, myopic policy-making and chronic mismanagement ensure that Lebanon has a critically dysfunctional infrastructure. Whether it is transport, telecoms, Internet or electricity Lebanon consistently fares terribly when compared to other countries of a similar income bracket.
Without serious and comprehensive administrative reform this malaise will only continue. Creating a nice new website may grab a couple of headlines and create the illusion that something is actually being done to tackle youth unemployment. However, right now the only people this site is creating jobs for are its developers and managers, and perhaps a consultant or two.
Update 18.29: A few jobs are now on the site, though they are still incredibly difficult to find.