On the one side are Lebanese youths eager to work, on the other are local employers looking for staff. So why are businesses—especially those based outside of Beirut—not recruiting more local youth? This question was the driving force behind Mercy Corps’ Youth-led Market Assessment (YLMA) in 2018.
The YLMA explored the reasons why youth were not penetrating the labor market in three areas of the country: Saida, Tripoli, and Barja (Mount Lebanon). It was conducted as part of a three-year Canadian-funded program aimed at protecting youths’ well-being and providing better opportunities, particularly in those three areas. The study interviewed 800 employers and involved 75 local youth volunteers as researchers, as well as Remark, a Beirut-based research consultancy that is studying livelihood opportunities for Lebanese, Syrian, and Palestinian youth and their families.
Three main findings were gleaned from the research. Firstly, the largest barrier to Lebanese youth employment found was a lack of communication skills. Almost 60 percent of the surveyed employers, who worked in industries including retail, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, services, and F&B, cited poor communication skills as a factor preventing those aged 16-25 from being employed (compared with just 8 percent raising the inability to work under pressure, 7 percent poor teamwork skills, and 6 percent poor time management). When asked to elaborate, participants highlighted a perceived inability of youths to talk to customers, to accept criticism, and to express themselves adequately.
To improve their communication skills, the report recommends that Lebanese youth attend life skills courses when possible; Mercy Corps currently offers such classes at its three branches of Bussma, local youth community centers (in Saida, Tripoli, and Barja). The report also suggests that technical, vocational, and educational training institutes across Lebanon include soft skills training in their curriculums.
Secondly, the study found that unemployed youth in Lebanon (Lebanese, Syrian, and Palestinian) were pursuing careers that did not match market needs. Work trends in Lebanon are geared toward industrial jobs in, for example, agro-food and STEM, but youths surveyed planned to pursue careers in photography, design, acting, dancing, and sport. Trade careers in demand, such as electricians and mechanics, are shunned in favor of accountancy or marketing studies. Social standards can play a role here; a director at a vocational training institute cited a huge demand for waste management and sanitation specialists, but said that Lebanese students refuse to go into this field as it is deemed shameful.
To break this disconnect between the careers in demand and the careers studied, the report recommends that technical, vocational, and educational training institutes and universities provide more information to prospective students about in-demand jobs—thought by the interviewed employers to be in retail, creative industries (such as jewelry design and our craftsmanship), agriculture/ago-food, and tourism.
Thirdly, the study debunks the commonly held assumption that the Syrian crisis has increased the unemployment rate in Lebanon. The study focused on recruitment trends for Palestinian and Syrian youth and found that they often take jobs requiring intense physical labor in the agriculture, environment, and construction sectors—and are not competing with locals in other sectors. These sectors are shunned by local youth, who are pushed by societal pressures into careers in the banking, services, or public sectors.
On the other hand, employers admitted to preferring to hire Palestinians and Syrians as they can do so for lower wages, no benefits, and no official contract. But these youths rarely make managerial positions, and some employers stated they always hire Lebanese for positions in direct contact with customers.
The results of this study were shared with another 2,000 youths living in the three target areas over the last six months, with information sessions to help them better understand how to approach labor market opportunities. Syrian and Palestinian youth were encouraged to seek safer jobs with better legal protection of their rights. Lebanese youth were told to pay attention to market needs and specialize in jobs in demand. Mercy Corps also called on employers to develop an “open-door policy” toward youth by creating short-term internships and mentoring opportunities. As for the government’s role, the study suggests it should invest more in local businesses to increase job vacancies and invest in developing young people’s skills to better integrate them into the labor market.