Maharat MED: Preparing young people for the workplace and beyond
Meet Raneem Al Jaouni, Jordanian student who just graduated in accounting at Princess Sumaya University for Technology in Amman. Her final year studies included a course called ‘Business Skills’, a university module of the wider Maharat MED programme, part of the UfM Med4Jobs initiative to help increase the employability of youth and women.
13 July 2020. Jordanian student Raneem Al Jaouni has always preferred working with numbers. Growing up in Saudi Arabia, she was drawn to numerical subjects, and this interest led to her to study for a degree in accounting at Princess Sumaya University for Technology in Amman, Jordan. Professionally, she is drawn to the business field, and so was delighted to find that her final year studies included a course called ‘Business Skills’. This university module is one aspect of the wider Maharat MED programme, which trains students to be ready for their future work and also helps them to start their own businesses.
Jordan is a perfect setting for the Maharat programme, as it works to directly resolve the gap that currently exists between employer requirements and student capabilities. With 63% of Jordanians under the age of 30 and a 99% youth literacy rate, young people in Jordan, like Raneem, represent amazing potential for the region. However, 40% of employers in the formal private sector in MENA countries identify skill shortages as a major constraint to business operation and firm growth.
The Maharat programme is addressing these challenges in line with the aims of the Med4Jobs initiative to help increase the employability of youth and women, close the gap between labour demand and supply, and foster a culture of entrepreneurship and private sector development across the Mediterranean region. Tackling the issue of reconciling labour demand and supply directly, the Maharat programme does this by fostering youth employment and employability skills; encouraging an entrepreneurial spirit in young people; and providing guidance to young people in choosing the right career path.
First steps into the world of work
Having graduated this year top of her class in Accounting, Raneem is now attending interviews for her first post-graduate job. Recalling her interview preparation training as part of the Maharat course, she comments that “we got to see how we could improve our answers, or how a question would be asked, what [to] expect, and what not to expect. I recall it now in my [real] interviews.” Having taken the course in the autumn of 2019, Raneem has been able to directly apply her learnings from the get-go, particularly in regards to the practical professional skills, such as presenting, active listening, time management and teamwork.
After she completed the course in February 2020, Raneem was called upon to speak as valedictorian of her class at her graduation. “I had to present in front of all my colleagues, my professors and the dean of my college, a gigantic audience… what I learned from the programme was really reflected in the presentation.” Regarding the training itself, she recalls “we had to prepare our own presentation… to show our [best] presentation skills, and whenever there was something not that good in our presentation, our trainer would tell us how we could fix it and improve ourselves.” Specifically, she stated how the focus on the way we stand, the way we [position ourselves] while presenting, the way we speak, [the way we move] our hands, our eye contact and so on… all helped.” Practising at this level of detail allowed Raneem to fundamentally improve her public speaking, to the point where she states that these skills are both desirable and “beautiful for someone to have”.
Skills, confidence and networking
Aside from the practical skills, the Maharat programme also includes behavioural training to encourage confidence and networking in its student attendees. Considering the soft skills aspect of the programme, Raneem stated that “regardless of the labour market, this course is about real life situations, it’s about how to manage your time, how to deal with stress and all that. Other courses do not teach us that!” What’s more, this desire to cultivate a wider perspective is actually built into the course structure. Student groups are mixed at least every other class to allow for different individuals to meet and learn from one another. For Raneem, this experience was eye-opening, as it allowed her to make friends from other departments that she would not have met otherwise. For her and her classmates, the programme “really improved our social skills.”
Outside of the classroom, another core pillar of the Maharat programme is engaging students in social and community work. During her course, Raneem volunteered as a group to distribute necessities to less fortunate families in her area. This experience, her first doing charitable work, Raneem felt that “it honestly opened my heart a lot and made me see the other part of the world… it was an amazing experience.” By encouraging students to volunteer as part of their studies, the Maharat programme is truly embedding a spirit of resourcefulness and charity into Jordanian youth – and in doing so helping to grow a new generation of community-minded professionals and entrepreneurs.
Following Maharat’s remarkable success in Jordanian vocational schools, community colleges and universities, the programme has been launched in Egypt, Morocco and Palestine, helping remarkable young people enter the world of work well informed, positive, and confident. Since the beginning of 2020, 27 Maharat Awareness Sessions were conducted for 5,400 students in the universities on several topics like Entrepreneurship and Entrepreneurship behaviour, Presentation skills, Time Management skills and Emotional Intelligence.
Looking to the future, Raneem is hoping to continue her financial education by completing a CFA or CPA and is currently interviewing for roles in finance. Following her experience working with less fortunate families as part of the Maharat course, she is continuing to volunteer with charitable organisations in and around Amman and believes very strongly in the importance of community overall. On a personal level, she thanks the course for enabling her to “feel very different. I see the difference. It’s my inner self that has changed. [Taking the Maharat course] boosted my confidence, my self-esteem, and even my emotional intelligence.” Reflecting on what the future holds, Raneem is grateful for her experiences so far, and particularly thanks this course for preparing her for “real life” business situations and her future career. For her, the Maharat course is important “for everyone, of all ages”, a message that embodies Maharat’s aims, for this generation and those to follow.
Developed by the Business Development Centre (BDC) in Jordan and in line with the UfM flagship Mediterranean Initiative for Jobs (Med4Jobs), the project Maharat MED aspires to encourage employability projects on a multi-dimensional level in Jordan, Palestine, Egypt and Morocco. Med4Jobs is a flagship initiative of the Union for the Mediterranean to help increase the employability of youth and women, close the gap between labour demand and supply, and foster a culture of entrepreneurship and private sector development. Developed by the UfM Secretariat, Med4Jobs is a cross-sector initiative driven by the need for an integrated regional initiative in the area of job creation.