Muscat: Higher education institutions will receive next week thousands of students who start their degree courses, with many of them unaware that they will struggle to find jobs in a market already flooded with unemployed graduates.
As it is, hundreds of graduates in the last academic year are still waiting for jobs. For those who enrol for the popular business degrees they will learn about the 'law of diminishing marginal returns' when jobs are created leading to stagnated production.
This is happening because the government is forced to employ half of them just to keep them out of mischief to avoid a repeat of 2011. Some of whom, which the government cannot take in, will wind up in jobs they could have had if they came straight out of school.
Thirty years ago, 100 per cent of graduates with degrees in various disciplines had jobs waiting for them. In 1993, according to the same statistics, 87 per cent found jobs within three months and in 2003 about 65 per cent were employed within 90 days of their graduation. Last year, just 40 per cent of the graduates were recruited within the same time lapse. What happened during the last three decades?
First, thanks to the baby boom, the Omani population increased by 20 per cent. More students have enrolled in schools producing more graduates than the market can absorb. Second, while it is true that development has expanded the job market, both the private and government sectors cannot keep up with the pace of population growth generating enough new positions.
Third, half of the new projects in the last decade required specialised skills that new graduates do not have. These jobs are filled by expatriates with the right qualifications. In the next decade to 2024, Oman is striving to set up industries in manufacturing, natural gas, transport and logistics. In theory, this business expansion has a huge potential to generate tens of thousands of jobs across the nation.
Opportunities, again on a theoretical template, will open up when smaller towns along the coast get connected with the planned railway system and the network of the huge natural gas hub. However, in half of these jobs, the new recruits will either be over-qualified or these jobs will be reserved for undergraduates. This is where the main shortcomings of the graduates armed with degrees exist. The education system may need a revamp, not the industry that creates jobs, as most people would like to think. The industries will not create vacancies to suit graduates but the other way around.
The way it is now, there is a huge mismatch between jobs available and the required skills. The Ministry of Higher Education has realised for the first time in four decades that it needs the help of the industries to work with universities. Industries do not have time or the money to train a graduate to be job ready. Local universities and colleges, on the other hand, have no resources in their curriculum programmes to impart specialised training to students as required by potential employers.
The fact remains that industry bosses get criticised for turning away graduates who don't fit their requirements. In their defence, Oman's major human resources agencies want the government to subsidise and pay for the training of graduates to make them attractive to employers. The government is already paying about OMR12,000 for each student to acquire a degree and they would need to come up with an unspecified amount of money if it decides to go ahead with the training subsidy.
Another problem that graduates face is the recruitment process. The online job seeking registration method promoted by the Ministry of Manpower has its flaws. It is not updated regularly and officials do not follow up with job availability as frequently as they should.
The link between the website and employers is not well established either. Companies that need graduates struggle to have access. Many graduates are not happy with the recruitment process saying that a lot needs to be done with the official online platform.
In a nutshell, the only way forward is to promote self-employment so some of the graduates do not have to rely on landing jobs but create their own business opportunities. All these big projects in the process can be the answer for them provided the government will stop favouring the same big corporate houses from monopolising everything.
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