Arab-American entrepreneur helps Arab workers find jobs
Washington - Stagnant wages and a mismatch of skills and jobs persist in the Arab world, according to a US-based job recruiter who focuses on the Middle East.
Most detrimental to the income levels in the Arab world is the stagnation of salaries in Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, where many Arab expatriates work and send remittances home. Rabih Mogharbel, founder of several recruiting agencies, including HireLebanese and HirePro, shared his impressions about Middle East labour and market trends with The Arab Weekly.
“Salaries haven’t been wonderful, even for American recruits sent to work in the GCC in specialised fields like engineering,” he said. “And the days of free housing and other financial perks are long gone.
“They make the same as what they would be making [in the United States], except the main advantage is that it’s tax-free. Many do it just because they want the international experience on their resume,” said Mogharbel.
For Lebanese workers, salary stagnation in Lebanon and the GCC has come with other stifling developments, such as the reduction in the number of work visas to some GCC countries and growing competition from Syrian workers who are sometimes hired for Syria-related jobs by the growing non-governmental organisation (NGO) sector in Lebanon.
Mogharbel said there are about 3,000 active job listings each month on his HireLebanese website, one of the main recruiting websites in Lebanon. He said the site gets 40,000 unique hits monthly and has 200,000 registered job seekers. GCC jobs used to make up a good percentage of the help wanted ads. Now, Mogharbel said, 90% of the jobs advertised are local, mostly by NGOs. He said he expected to host many of them at his job fair in Tripoli in October.
With more demand for jobs than supply, potential employers know they can find applicants no matter how low they push wages. Mogharbel recalled one Qatari company that sought to hire a cadre of waiters but was only willing to pay new hires $600 per month. Experienced waiters in Beirut did not apply, so Mogharbel recruited from rural areas in Lebanon, where waiters have less professional training but are willing to accept lower pay.
“Two months later, the employer sent back all 40 waiters because they had no training,” said Mogharbel.
It is this mismatch in skills and jobs that many of the NGOs on his website are trying to address by offering vocational training in various fields, he said. But it is too soon to ascertain whether this is making a difference in employment rates in Lebanon.
Other NGOs are also focusing on the displaced Syrian population, which is primarily men and women of working age with a wide range of skills.
Mogharbel is working on an initiative to match Syrian refugees with specialised skills with potential employers anywhere in the world. The idea has many supporters but requires ingenuity and funding to get around the bureaucracy and chaos that is endemic to the Syrian refugee crisis.
“For example, how do you find the right refugees with the right skills?” he said. “My solution is to hire five or six refugees in each camp who know how to use a computer and speak English and just have people apply, fill out a resume and that way we build a database of candidates. Then we market this database to various companies around the world.”
Mogharbel has experience with being displaced by war and trying to find his way in a new country. He was 12 years old in 1989 when he fled Lebanon’s civil war with his family and settled in the United States. After receiving a graduate degree in international commerce from the University of Michigan, Mogharbel worked in corporate America for more than a decade before starting his recruiting firm.
One way of increasing his business was to bid on government contracts. The US government gives priority to certain business owners deemed part of a disadvantaged minority, such as Native Americans, African Americans, South-east Asians or women. Arab Americans, however, receive no preference.
“So the only advantage we have if we’re to bid on government contracts is that we’re a small business,” he said. “We don’t do much government work yet, but I’d be encouraged to do more if we could get some designation to give us an edge.”