Introduction

Maged’s long-term objective is to change the cultural norms and official policies and programs related to employment. In an effort to achieve this, he created a comprehensive career counseling program that will identify and develop students’ capacities and interests, inform them about the needs and opportunities of the labor market, and assist them in finding jobs where they can best apply all of their assets. Maged’s model includes collaboration with relevant government offices, business sector employers, universities, high schools, and training institutes, and other citizen sector organizations.

Maged is working to change the policies related to education and employment through a career counseling system that addresses both the aptitudes and talents of youth and the needs of the increasingly global labor market.

Maged’s career counseling system is multifaceted. He begins by administering aptitude tests that familiarize students with their practical capabilities, identifies their latent talents, and clarifies the way their interests may serve them professionally. Maged then informs youth about the nature of the labor market, and how their skills can make them successful, marketable workers. Taking all of this information into account, the students’ abilities and interests, and the state of the labor market, Maged is then able to match young people with suitable job opportunities.

Maged’s comprehensive career counseling system that will transform the way the government develops its employment policies and how young Egyptians prepare to enter the workforce. Maged helps young people to see and articulate their own interests and capacities, and to judge how these can be best applied to the current needs of the job market. By involving relevant actors throughout society, Maged’s program will drastically reduce the current demand/supply mismatch phenomena of high unemployment on one hand, and super-saturation of workers in certain fields on the other, problems that are caused by lack of proper information and preparation.

Maged’s initiative focuses on youth who are both studying in high schools, technical institutes, universities, and those who have already entered the labor market. Participants in the program first undergo a comprehensive assessment of their professional skills, interests, and potential. Then, through a series of information sessions, they are informed about local and global market needs, professional environments, and the skills they need to develop in order to successfully compete in their chosen field. Maged will then provide job placement services to the participants of his program, ensuring that they find viable employment that is suitable to their skill set. This service will be the last step in ensuring that youth find a job, and therefore enter a career, that is the “right fit”: a field that the young employee is able and interested in contributing to, and where their services are in demand. Maged hopes to reduce the widespread, inflexible, and debilitating emphasis placed on fields that are considered prestigious, yet which cannot accommodate the current flood of young applicants.

Although youth unemployment and the super-saturation of workers in certain fields are significant, widely-recognized problems in Egypt, no one has sought to address them in a way that focuses on preventive measures that will change the culture and system.

The Egyptian labor market suffers from a critical gap between its needs and the enormous supply of young skilled workers. Egypt is home to more than 7 million youth who have graduated from high schools, technical institutes, and universities, but, despite their training, the majority of these young people are not prepared or able to enter the workforce. Because they have often trained in fields that are considered prestigious, yet which are already super-saturated with workers, many youth face unemployment or find jobs in unrelated fields. According to a survey conducted in 2004 by the Egyptian Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAMPAS), 65 percent of high school graduates, and between 25 and 30 percent of all university graduates, are unemployed. Of the total population of those able to work in Egypt’s formal and informal sectors, between 11 and 13 percent are unemployed.

Young people in Egypt must make important career decisions in high school. Based on their grades and their parents’ wishes, high school students must decide whether to attend university, and focus on sciences or the arts, to attend a technical institute, or to directly enter the labor market. The demands of the labor market and the natural abilities and interests of students are rarely taken into consideration in this process. As a result, many students end up focusing on fields such as pharmacy or engineering, not necessarily because of relevant interest or ability, but because they are considered prestigious and lucrative, and because their grades permit them to enter those university faculties. Students with low grades are forced to study business and law, but have no information about job opportunities, possible specializations, or practical skills required in these areas. Ultimately, societal pressures and a lack of information artificially steer young Egyptians toward select fields, creating a surplus of workers that cannot be absorbed by the market and diminishing the chance that youth will embark on successful careers that they find intellectually and personally fulfilling.

Young people who do find jobs are often ill-prepared for the roles and responsibilities they are expected to assume in the workplace. This can be attributed to their lack of practical information and experience in the chosen field, or the lack of appropriate professional skills, such as leadership and organization. Only recently have internships, which offer young people the opportunity to practically apply their skills and to contribute to and learn from professional environments, become a valued element of early professional development in Egypt.

The lack of dialogue between the education and business sectors, demonstrated by the gap between the theoretical training offered by the education sector and the practical requirements of the business sector, lies at the heart of the problem Maged is aiming to solve.

In 1993, Maged began work with the Coptic Evangelical Organization for Social Services (CEOSS), where he prepared manuals teaching students how to write a resume and how to conduct an interview. Since then, he has conducted trainings on career advice and entering the workforce for more than 400 young people. By 2007, Maged had assisted more than 3000 young people in preparing their CVs and had employed more than 1850 people in CEOSS’s youth employment initiative.

Through his work with CEOSS, Maged has observed that many young factory workers were leaving their jobs after a short period of time, creating a high rate of turnover. Maged wanted to understand why this was happening, so he conducted trainings and information sessions in the factories most affected by this phenomenon, ensuring that workers understood basic information about their jobs and the job market. As a result, workers had a better understanding and vision of their jobs, required skills and competencies besides basic job knowledge like salaries and promotion. The turn over rate was reduced as a result of workers becoming aware of different fields in the factory and where and which fields will be their best fit.

In 1996, and in addition to his work with CEOSS, Maged joined the Egyptian Center for Training and Employment in order to acquire more knowledge about the important ideas and general guidelines of career counseling and advice. As a variety of governmental and citizen organizations participate in and contribute to the Center’s activities, this serves as a valuable network through which Maged may develop and propagate his initiative.

In the year 2000, Maged worked with the Mubarak-Kohl Initiative’s vocational training program to prepare youth to enter the labor market. During his work, Maged discovered that 80 percent of the students who participated enrolled in universities, rather than entering a vocational profession, as had been expected. Students had earned high grades in the practical skills-based assessments, which that enabled them to enroll in universities, but this caused the program to miss its goal of preparing a group of skilled vocational workers. This demonstrated to Maged the need to teach young people about all of their professional options, and to help them understand how their abilities can be an asset to the labor market. Though the students in the Mubarak-Kohl program were better-suited for technical vocations, they were drawn away from immediate employment, toward the prestige of university and professional occupations leading them to a dead end.

Maged’s extensive experience working on youth employment helped him realize that students were generally uninformed about the labor market, unaware of their skills and interests, and thus unable to effectively choose suitable careers. To explore strategies implemented in other countries that experience challenges with youth employment, Maged has traveled to France, Jordan, and Tunisia. He specifically studied career counseling programs instituted in these countries, using them to develop his own approach. In 2006, he developed a comprehensive career counseling system to address this critical issue.

To date, Maged has initiated career counseling programs in collaboration with major development organizations, including the Egyptian-Swiss Development Fund, the German Agency for Technical Cooperation (GTZ), the Aga Khan Development Network, and the Youth Center for Development. Around 500 young people have completed this program.

In addition to working with these organizations, Maged conducted pilot projects in three vocational schools in 2006. He worked in El Fania El Saniaia in Dar El Salam, Zinb Bamba Kaden in Saida Zeinab, and El Manila School for Girls. In cooperation with the schools’ teachers, Maged discussed the demands of the labor market and the importance of career counseling. He also offered teachers and students practical literature on these topics.

Maged has also begun to develop recruitment offices that will provide career services to youth, teaching them how to write resumes, conduct interviews, and develop their professional skills. These offices will also support youth in finding suitable job opportunities.

In the next five years, Maged plans to expand his initiative so that career counseling services are provided to young people throughout Egypt. The first step will be to establish his CSO and to continue spreading awareness of his concept.

The second and third years of Maged’s program will focus on spreading awareness of his concepts among relevant CSOs, educational institutions, government offices, and potential employers, encouraging the institutionalization of career counseling as a strategy to enhance youth employment. Maged plans to engage key actors through meetings, information sessions, and roundtables. He hopes that students who have received career counseling through his program will advocate on its behalf, and raise awareness on their school campuses.

Maged will also develop training of trainer (ToT) courses for organizations and institutes concerned with youth and employment. ToT courses will be divided into theoretical, practical, and evaluations sections and, using a manual created by Maged, will teach participants how to give valuable career advice to students.

In the last two years of his plan, Maged plans to step up his advocacy efforts by presenting the results and achievements of his first three years to decision makers. He hopes that this information will encourage the modification of the education system to include career counseling.

Maged’s initiative is not the first in Egypt to address young people’s ability to become viable competitors in the labor market, but it differs greatly from other programs that are already in place. GTZ is working on job recruitment of youth and recent graduates, and the Aga Khan Development Network is providing vocational training to young people. While these programs fulfill an important role in reducing the gap between supply and demand for labor, Maged’s is the only initiative that focuses on informing youth and enhancing their ability to make educated decisions regarding their professional future.

Maged lives in Helwan, outside of Cairo, and has received all his education there. Although Maged was initially interested in social work and the humanities, he studied commerce at the wish of his father, who was a math teacher. His father died in 1992, when Maged was still young. His mother was not working and his brother worked as a nutritional expert in El Kasr El Aini Hospital in Cairo.

Maged was most influenced by the late Father Samuel Habib, a Coptic priest and the founder and former director of CEOSS, who was his godfather and mentor. Maged considers Father Samuel a “leadership expert” who knew how to help people recognize their own value and potential. Father Samuel taught him that every person possesses capabilities that inspire them and that success and impact can be achieved even when resources are limited. Maged said that, when he stepped into Habib’s office, he had a new understanding of what was most important in the world. That was very meaningful to him.

From his youth, Maged was involved in many of his schools’ social activities, which sparked and helped him develop his interest in social change. In the last years of high school and the beginning of his training at the institute, Maged gathered a small group of volunteers and led them in providing services to marginalized communities. Maged visited several poor districts in Cairo and met a lot of people in need. He wanted to gain a deeper insight into their problems, get to know them better, and help them understand their own leadership potential and ability to act as an agent of change in their communities.