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Week of 7.11.08

Transcript: Jobs for Jordan

BRANCACCIO: Americans need to pay attention to a crisis of vast proportions in the Middle East: unemployment. Across the region, more than 10 million young people have no work. It's a situation that breeds frustration, resentment, and anger.

My colleague Mona Iskander traveled to Jordan, where local businesses are partnering up with an American organization to find a solution.

Brenda Breslauer produced this report on social entrepreneurs at work, part of our series that we call Enterprising Ideas.

ISKANDER: In the early hours of the morning in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Amman, Jordan, 25-year-old Mahmoud Abdel Naby, is getting ready for work... he's a computer technician and he's thrilled to have his first job since graduating from college last February.

MAHMOUD: I think that I am an ordinary person, not a special one. The greatest thing is that I found a job quickly...I consider myself very lucky.

ISKANDER: Why were people surprised that you got a job so fast, is that unusual?

MAHMOUD: In Jordan. Yes!

ISKANDER: Not everyone has been as lucky. A full one quarter of the young people in the Middle East are unemployed. Take twenty-three year old Anas Hamden. He graduated from college months ago and is still looking.

ANAS: It's normal to be frustrated. Because even though work is important financially, it is even more important psychologically so you don't feel emptiness inside.

ISKANDER: Anas lives at home with his older brother, Ahmed, and four other siblings. They are the men of the house while their father works as a teacher in Dubai and sends back money. They see him only once a year. Ahmed is worried about his younger brother.

AHMAD: He don't like to—to see his friends. He don't like to—to make any relation now. He—he stays only in the—in his house. And he—he became—he became very sad.

ISKANDER: Anas's frustration is shared by more than ten million young people across the Middle East who are also looking for jobs. The youth unemployment rate here in the Middle East is the highest of any region in the world. We came here to Jordan, a country where nearly one third of the young people are out of work, to see the problem up close and to look at how local businesses, an American entrepreneur...and Arab leaders are trying to come up with solutions.

QUEEN RANIA: I believe that this is the most important thing that we can focus on today.

ISKANDER: Rania Al Abdullah is the queen of Jordan and she's making opportunities for Arab youth her top priority. Since her husband Abdullah took over from his late father King Hussein in 1999, Rania's been using the power of her throne to redefine the future of the region.

QUEEN RANIA: When you ask people—about the Middle East some will associate the Middle East with oil. So will say—new markets and business opportunities. Some will associate the Middle East with conflict. Sadly, some will associate it with terrorism. To me, the Middle East is about young people.

ISKANDER: And there are a lot of them. A staggering sixty percent of the population of the Middle East is under the age of twenty-five. It's called the youth bulge and it's a huge demographic and political challenge for Arab leaders.

QUEEN RANIA: Young people represent a very large percentage of our population. And if we fail to create the job opportunities for them, then you're gonna have a lot of frustrated hope our region needs to create 100 million jobs by the year 2020. Now that's a big, daunting number.

BASSEM SALEM: It is definitely a crisis. It's—it's—it's a big crisis.

ISKANDER: Bassem Salem is the Minister of Labor in Jordan. He's concerned that the frustration will lead to instability.

What does—what does that mean for the country?

BASSEM SALEM: Look what's happening in Iraq. Look what's happening in—in—in Palestine the frustration of people is—you know, they don't see light at the end of the tunnel. —and—and this is very dangerous

ISKANDER: Ahmed says he's worried about where this hopelessness might lead.

AHMAD: I'm not saying that every hopeless people will be terrorists. But I think that lot—all the terrorists or—most of them began from hopeless point. It's a global issue. It's a foreign policy issue. I think—the—the candidates, for example, in the U.S., oughta take note of it.

ISKANDER: Michael Hager hopes to be part of the solution. He's the president of an American organization working in five Middle Eastern countries to create jobs.

MICHAEL HAGER: It's only going to be through training, training that will make an unemployable graduate employable. This is the key. And I think you know we can do that.

ISKANDER: The non-profit is called Education for Employment. In Jordan, its four career programs range from a land surveying course for college grads to an air conditioning repair class that gives students hands-on training. Compared to the massive numbers of unemployed youth, the relatively new program is still very small, but what's innovative, Hager says, is that the organization lines up jobs for young people before they start the training.

MICHAEL HAGER: There is, in many places, what is called "training fatigue," where the persons—the students go to training, and there's nothing after that. We start at the other end. We start with the business leaders. And we ask them, "What do you need? What—what skills are in short supply?"

ISKANDER: Education for Employment does it by partnering with local businesses....like this air conditioning company in Amman. Together they provide technical training....and people skills. And at the end, the company has committed to hiring 100 graduates.

MAYYADA ABU-JABER: Getting the private sector onboard. That is, you know, the most important. If you don't have the jobs then what are we training for?

ISKANDER: Mayyada Abu-Jaber is education for employment's director in Jordan. She recruits Jordanians from disadvantaged backgrounds. Some have had limited access to education, others have university degrees.

So you have college grads who—are finished—they've finished school, and they can't find jobs.

MAYYADA ABU-JABER: Yes. They're all excited to get jobs. And then, you know, they—they—they come out, and they—they look around, and they—they see sometimes year—a year, two year, not getting the job.

ISKANDER: Why is that?

MAYYADA ABU-JABER: Because there is a mismatch of what the—you know, the—the—the youth are getting at the university, and what the private sector wants. We see ourselves coming into this area and filling this gap for the youth. Helping them.

ISKANDER: In fact, college and university grads have among the highest rates of unemployment. The problem lies in a stalled educational system. Once upon a time, a university diploma practically guaranteed a stabile government job. Now those jobs are disappearing while the business world is expanding. But students aren't being taught what they need to make it in the private sector.

It's a problem for young men.... But also for young educated women who traditionally took these government jobs... today their unemployment rates are 20% higher than men's.

RON BRUDER: These youth, they go to college or they go to high school, and if they're dead ended or they're washing dishes, and they have no future, and they can't marry, and they raise kids, it's not a good thing.

ISKANDER: Ron Bruder is the vision and the money behind education for employment. A New York businessman who made millions in the real east industry, he felt the need to take action after the attacks of 911 and was inspired by the Marshall Plan.

RON BRUDER: We, after World War II, had reached out to the countries that we had been fighting with months earlier, rebuilt their economies, and made long-term allies out of them. I felt we should be doing that in this region.

ISKANDER: Can young men and women with jobs really create stability?

RON BRUDER: Yeah, I believe so. Otherwise I'd continue to build shopping centers.

ISKANDER: A self-described Jewish guy from Brooklyn, he committed ten million dollars of his own money to start Education for Employment in 2002. In addition to its four programs in Jordan, it now offers training in the West Bank, Gaza, Morocco, and has two programs on the way in Egypt and Yemen.

In Jordan, Ahmed, the older Hamdan brother, learned about Education for Employment at a job fair. He'd just graduated university and enrolled in the workplace success class, which taught him skills like how to interview and write a resume.

Two months after completing the training, Ahmed was offered a job in his field of electrical engineering...at a great salary.

AHMAD: I'm excited for this new opportunity. Because it will give me good income.

ISKANDER: But there's a catch. It's in Saudi Arabia. Like many other young men in the Arab world, Ahmed will have to leave his home for a better job in the gulf region.

While Ahmed anxiously waits for his visa to come through, his brother Anas has little on the horizon.

When he graduated college with a degree in graphic design, Anas thought he could start a career in the field.... But it's been months and so far he's struck out.

ANAS: The fact of the matter is I've already given up.

ISKANDER: So, why wouldn't you just take a job that may be below your level or outside your specialization?

ANAS: Because in our culture the most important thing is the job title. There is an element of disgrace in the way society views certain jobs, like a mechanic...it's the same if you have a night job. What will the neighbors say, what will your family say?

ISKANDER: It's known as the culture of shame. So while jobs are thriving today in Jordan's construction and service industries, many are going to foreign workers who are willing to do the work. And do it for less. Getting Jordanians to look beyond the stigma is such a problem that the Ministry of Labor has developed a campaign to take it on. These ads are intended to show that it's ok to work in jobs that require manual labor...

This poster shows young people working in service-industry jobs...

And this is one tells the story of a successful auto mechanic who started from the bottom up...

Education for employment's director, Mayada, says part of the recruitment process involves adjusting young peoples' expectations.

MAYYADA ABU-JABER: There is nothing shameful in any kind of job. So we really tackle the culture of shame.

ISKANDER: And they have a business model for doing all this: Education for Employment is bringing Middle Eastern companies and organizations on board so that one day it won't need money from the U.S. But for now, the bulk of the funding still comes from the United States. In fact, the State Department has given 1.5 million dollars. And that American money can be a sensitive issue.

Have you had to convince people that there's no agenda, there's no American agenda, in the programs that you're setting up?

MICHAEL HAGER: Frankly, yes, of course. We have to overcome the natural—let's say—disfavor toward Americans at this point. We have to convince them that we don't have a hidden agenda. And what this has meant for us is that we have to go through—a heavier burden of proving ourselves and showing that we are non-political.

ISKANDER: What Hager points to is success stories like Mahmoud. He the college grad who felt lucky to have found a job so quickly. Every day he travels one hour by public bus to a water management company where he works in computer support. He credits the workplace success program.

MAHMOUD: The training through Education for Employment taught me about the way things are done in the workplace, how to deal with employees, how to present yourself in an interview. It was a really good opportunity, excellent...perhaps the best chance I have gotten.

ISKANDER: The job, and the salary that comes with it, have a ripple effect. Mahmoud can now help out his parents with the bills and expenses for the three siblings who live at home with them. And that's crucial at a time when food shortages and rising prices make daily life a struggle. Mahmoud's father, sixty-two year old Abdel Rahim Abdel Naby, a retired shopkeeper, buys the groceries for the family.

FATHER: Prices are going up everyday... For example, A can of tuna, I bought it for 50 piaster and the next day I went to buy another can. I gave him 50 piaster, he said no its 65. I gave him the 65 piaster. The third day I returned to buy another can of Tuna....I went to give him 65 piaster, he said no, its now 75.

ISKANDER: His son's income from the new job helps out but the price increases still hurt.

FATHER: Nobody can go on with this inflation. And it's affecting family life. It's making us tense. There is no money. Life is bitter. It's difficult.

ISKANDER: For all of those reasons, Education for Employment is reaching out to those who have it harder than others. Young men like 23-year old Mounis Sadek. He grew up in an orphanage in Amman and never finished high school. Having a career was only a dream, Monis says, until he found out about the air conditioning repair program through the orphanage.

MOUNIS: When I complete the training, I hope to work here, God willing. Because I never had a trade before. This is my first profession in my entire life.

ISKANDER: Mounis hopes to one day be an example for the children in the orpanage where he spent his childhood.

MOUNIS: They are my younger siblings. You might say that I am their role model as well as their older brother.

ISKANDER: So do you have any big plans for after you finish the program?

MOUNIS: I still need to start working and get some experience. Then I will be ready for marriage, God willing.

ISKANDER: Monis is engaged but it hasn't been easy to save up for the wedding. Marriage in the Middle East is no small affair.

Typically, the groom and his family cover all expenses as well the cost of setting up a household. Without a job and the income that comes with it, many in this generation of young men cannot afford to marry, like 23 -year-old Anas Hamdan.

ANAS: We don't think about this issue because basically this is far fetched because we you need at least $20,000 to get married. But one's salary is maximum 250 a month. So it is far fetched.

ISKANDER: Even for his 25 year old brother Ahmed...who has a job lined up, marriage is still a long way off.

AHMED: I have—plan for marriage. But—nowadays, I think—it's very hard, because I need a lot of money.

ISKANDER: What the Hamdan brothers told us is not unique. According to the Brookings Institution, marriage, long the centerpiece of Middle Eastern life, is in crisis. Because of the economy, many young men are delaying marriage from their twenties until their thirties ...and that has profound consequences. In the Middle East, financial independence and marriage are the mark of manhood and social standing.

And...in a culture where sex outside marriage is forbidden, postponing marriage is leaving a generation of young men frustrated. They are stuck in their parents' homes, waiting to begin their adult lives, a situation Brookings calls waithood.

All this is a wakeup call for Arab leaders. Queen Rania took to the international stage to launch a new campaign this past January at the world economic forum in Davos... an initiative to train one million Arab youth by the year 2018... an effort to get young people ready for the job market.

QUEEN RANIA: It's about a promise to launch upon the Arab world, across all sectors, a generation of young men and women who are able to see an opportunity and pursue it.

ISKANDER: It was part of the queen's role as regional ambassador for an organization called Injaz... meaning "achivevement" in Arabic... Injaz's main goal is to get leaders from the private sector to teach marketable skills to high school and college students.... Like in this classroom in the countryside of Jordan.

Mohammad Abdel Rahman is an Injaz volunteer who owns a consulting company in Amman... Once a week, he teaches at this all girls' school on how to start and run a small business.

MOHAMMAD ABDEL RAHMAN: What's the difference between public relations and marketing?

ISKANDER: It's not just strategy, the girls have created a real business making and selling jewelry.

QUEEN RANIA: Injaz is a very important program. And I feel it—it's a—it's a big part of the job jigsaw. A program like Injaz comes in and—and fills in the gaps by providing the young people with the critical life skills that they need, entrepreneurship—leadership skills.

ISKANDER: Injaz started in jordan in 1999 and has spread across 12 Arab countries reaching more than 300,000 students. But critics say it's a long term investment for a problem that needs immediate results. The urgent issue now is jobs, jobs, jobs. Tens of millions needed in the Middle East by the year 2020.

ISKANDER: In Jordan and in other countries in the Arab world, there's been extraordinary economic growth. Why hasn't that translated into lower unemployment?

QUEEN RANIA: Well, in some countries, it has. But we also have the demographic—challenge of—high growth rates. But we need to reform our educational—systems.

ISKANDER: But as queen of -Jordan, can you—can you work on the educational system?

QUEEN RANIA: That's what I've been doing.

ISKANDER: To see the queen in action, we were invited to go along with her to a run down public school in the dusty city of Zarqa. It's one of the poorest cities in Jordan and was home to the late terrorist leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab Al Zarqawi. She came to inspect this school as part of a new royal initiative to rehabilitate Jordan's worst schools and get the private sector to help out.

And over at the Ministry of Labor, officials are rolling out new vocational training programs. But they admit it will only amount to 30,000 jobs, only a fraction of what's needed.

You talk a lot about the private sector and the partnership. But shouldn't the government be doing more?

BASSEM SALEM: I think the private sector should do more. The government should be a regulator. They put the laws and regulations. I don't think governments can do things better. The private sector can do it better. We set the standards. Let them do the training. Let them decide on the curriculum. Let them decide on what programs they need because, ultimately, those are the kids, the boys and girls, that they will employ. Government should be out of it.

ISKANDER: When we looked around the region for examples of what the private sector could do, Education for Employment was one of a handful of programs with immediate results. But it's a very, very small start. Since Education for Employment opened for business two years ago, it has found jobs for only two hundred and fifty two students across the region.

MICHAEL HAGER: We're a drop in the bucket. And—but we're moving toward—much larger output. When we started, we were having graduates in the teens. Then this year, in the hundreds. Next year—we hope to reach thousand.

ISKANDER: On this day in March, the first 18 students are graduating from the air conditioning repair program. It's a big moment. ...even the Labor Minister is there.

I think it's—it's a very good—model. It's a small program but all18 kids that graduated, they all have jobs. So—so we don't have the problem of once they finish their training, they're still seeking and looking for a job.

ISKANDER: But can this program make a difference?

BASSEM SALEM: I think it can make a difference as pilot projects. The most important issue is the private sector is more involved, now.

ISKANDER: So is Education for Employment working? There are some rough spots. Remember Mounis Sadek who grew up in an orphanage? He had high hopes for his future and for the future of Jordan.

MOUNIS: I dream of becoming something in this country, of helping develop it. With Gods help I will have my own shop, and pass on my skills to my employees and my children, God willing.

ISKANDER: But things didn't work out as planned. Mounis completed his training but was offered a position with no health insurance and a salary he thought was too low. Disappointed, he took a job as a cashier in a restaurant with a higher salary and benefits, so he could save for marriage.

ISKANDER: Do you see success at this point?

MICHAEL HAGER: You know—success for us is an evolving thing. You know, we look back over the past two years, and we say the success has been phenomenal. But if we look ahead and see the scale of the mountain and how on the other side we—we kind of hold our—our fire, we say—we've got a long way to go.

ISKANDER: But for those who've found jobs, it is a success. Ahmed Hamdan is one of them. He finally got the visa he's been waiting for.

AHMAD: Mother I got the visa to travel.

MOTHER: Oh thank God. Congratulations!

AHMAD: It's my visa to travel to Saudi Arabia.

ISKANDER: It's a bitter sweet moment for mother and son. Ahmed will have to leave his family and his city behind, just like his father has done for a job in Dubai.

AHMAD: I will leave Jordan. But I don't want that. Because I love my area, and I love my friends. And I love my—my people.

ISKANDER: But Ahmed, like so many young people across the Middle East, knows that a job is too good to pass up.

BRANCACCIO: You caught that earlier... the unemployment crisis across the Middle East is affecting young couples: they can't afford to get married. Find out more about the marriage crisis...it's all on our website.

And that's it for NOW. From New York, I'm David Brancaccio. We'll see you next week.