When American author Erik Qualman said “We don’t have a choice on whether we do social media, the question is how we do it” in 2014, little did we realise that social media would soon take over every sphere of life and create a different living environment for people all over the globe.
A case in point was when young Omanis took to Twitter last week to express their frustrations over what seems to be a “never ending struggle” to find a stable job in their own home country.
The result? A Twitter hashtag that highlights jobseekers’ concerns has been doing the rounds on social media. Surprisingly, this has also been a topic of discussion for citizens and residents alike.
‘#Omaniswithoutjobs’, was the trending Twitter hashtag (#) that brought the issue to light. The hashtag generated nearly 28,500 comments and 600,000 tweets.
Numerous Twitter users have complained about the increasing numbers of unemployed graduates, with many also calling on the government to replace a good portion of expatriate manpower with the local workforce.
But has the movement worked in favour of the youngsters?
“No,” says 24-year-old Omani, Nader al Mujaini, a bachelor’s degree holder in civil engineering from Sultan Qaboos University (SQU).
“I have registered with the Ministry of Manpower (MoM) for a job in the government sector in February of 2016. But, till now I have not received a call. Because of that, I have started looking for jobs in the private sector in Oman, and abroad in countries like Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.
“Everyone is saying that there are no vacancies, or are simply shooing us away when we go there looking for a job. The situation is also the same in the UAE, as the companies don’t even come back to us if we apply.
“Employers want us to walk into their office with five or six years’ experience, but how can we do that as freshers (recent graduate)?” asks Nadir, in an agitated tone.
Meanwhile, 25-year-old Fatema Ali al Thani, a post-graduate in business administration is also unemployed, after returning to Oman, following two-years of studies in the UCL School of Management, London.
“I spent a lot of my father’s money on my college fees, and I was expecting to stand on my own feet after all these years. I also have a loan of close to RO15,000, which I have to start paying back in another three months.
“I am completely clueless about what I will do, to be honest,” she tells Y.
However, Nadir and Fatema are only two among a sea of Omanis who are seeking jobs in their own country. As of last month, there were some 50,000 jobseekers according to statistics revealed by the National Centre for Statistics and Information (NCSI).
Fatema, who is active on Twitter, recalls that continual calls by the youngsters were met with little or no response by government officials, leading to the creation of new hashtags such as ‘#Omaniswithoutjobs2’, and more recently, ‘#Omaniswithoutjobs3’.
To understand more about what is being done to provide jobs to young graduates in the Sultanate, we contacted a spokesman from the Ministry of Manpower.
He points out: “We are currently keeping track of these hashtags. But there is very little that we can do to provide for the tens of thousands who are looking for jobs, currently.
“Our Omanisation drive is fully-fledged and we are working towards improving the number of Omanis being hired in companies here.
“Today, I can assure you that more and more companies are opting for Omanis over expatriates.
“We have come to a point where they think twice or even thrice before hiring an expatriate because of the difficulty in issuing visas.”
Early this year, Ali Al Sunaidi, the Minister of Commerce and Industry, warned private companies that at least 35 per cent of their workforce should be Omani or they would start to lose state benefits, which include free commercial lands, training and low-interest loans.
The government also organises regular job fairs to help the recruitment process.
Its target was set in 2010 as part of the Sultanate’s Omanisation process, which began in 1988 with a drive to replace expatriates in key sectors such as engineering, education, health and finance.
The government established the committee in the same year to encourage the private sector to employ locals. But for the unemployed, Oman does not offer any state benefits.
Some young Omanis are saying that they fear the high unemployment rate is causing feelings of resentment towards expatriates.
“We know that there are certain jobs that require a certain amount of expertise, which companies can only find outside the country,” the Ministry of Manpower spokesman says.
“We cannot simply ask the expat residents to leave tomorrow. There are a lot of procedures that are taken by companies, and new laws passed, to ensure that Omanis are being given a fair chance, here,” the spokesman adds.
“If any Omani is seeking a job in the public sector, they can simply visit the labour department in their Wilayat and proceed from there.
“It’s a relatively easy process but the types of jobs will depend on what is available,” he reveals.
But it’s not that simple, says Adil al Balushi, an Omani who is working in a company that is completely different from his field of study in college. The 25-year-old electronics and communications engineer is employed as a driver for a gas cylinder delivery company.
With a heavy heart, Adil opens up: “I spent every Riyal my family had for my degree in college. So, it was quite hard for me to take to the wheel of a truck. Of course, it is a job that I respect, because even my father retired as a driver for a cargo company, here. That is also why I took a heavy-vehicle licence.
“It breaks my heart when I think of the time I spent studying in college. I also passed out with a cumulative grade point average (CGPA) of 3.2 out of 4.
“Sadly, companies don’t care about that. They only want people with experience and those who will work for less money. And a comparable expatriate will probably work for less money, too,” he tells.
“The only way around it would be to enforce Omanisation to a higher extent while also giving existing expats the right opportunities. I would say it would be better to restrict new people from coming in, especially if the job can be fulfilled by an Omani.
But while tens of thousands of local jobseekers are expressing their frustration through the trending hashtag on Twitter and other social media platforms, several individuals – including business owners – are taking matters into their own hands.
To fight for the cause, Omani-entrepreneur Saif Ahmed al Manji, launched ‘Melad’, which is an online platform that aims at bringing entrepreneurs and investors together to create projects that will help reduce the unemployment rate in the Sultanate.
The 26-year-old tells Y Magazine that 231 investors have already registered in support of the project, and are on course to generate and fund RO3m into new projects.
“I came up with this idea in the light of #Omaniswithoutjobs to encourage youth to become entrepreneurs, and to help them by providing consultants and investors to support their ventures,” Al Manji points out.
However, he says that SMEs cannot solve the issue on their own but rather with support from other established public and private firms.
“In this economic climate, innovative, pioneering projects that can export local services and products would play a major role in creating jobs,” he explains.
While Melad provides expertise, 23-year-old Ali Rashid al Salhi – a jobseeker himself – is offering training through his new initiative, ‘Nuqta’.
“We aim at turning jobseekers to job makers through providing free entrepreneur workshops and real-life management experience,” Al Salhi tells us.
“Four members of the team had worked at a restaurant to collect capital and start their own business.”
Commenting on the hashtag, the mechanical engineering graduate says that increasing Omanisation in the private sector and having more confidence in Omanis would be an ideal way to employ more locals.
Muneer al Zadjali, a restaurateur, supports the initiatives. “I think the youngsters taking up such new projects is a sign that we are progressing in time. There were days when everyone wanted to be an employee in the ministries or government agencies.
“They would serve the government for 25-odd years and then retire. But now, the young kids are coming forward with initiatives that will not only benefit them but also the community as a whole.”
Muneer reveals that his son Khalid is currently seeking a job and has been very active on social media.
“It is funny how social media has taken over Oman. Today, there is a way for people to connect with high level employees even. Back when I was starting up, we had to visit numerous offices just to file a complaint. Today, you raise it on social media and everything will be sorted.
“Social media is the new way of life,” he jokes.
Muneer’s statements on social media only prove to be true as a new online platform is offering jobseekers temporary alternative and part-time vacancies, further aiming to improve the levels of training that is given to young graduates in Oman.
The soon-to-be-commenced ‘Zawel’ initiative stems from the thoughts of established entrepreneur Ahmed al Ghafri.
“Such jobs are widely available across the globe as students, employees and jobseekers work part-time or overtime during the evening or holidays to increase their income and boost their skills.
Mr Al Ghafri says that companies tend to welcome such schemes because it allows more flexible contracts for both parties.
“This idea has only arrived recently to the Sultanate and regulations have adapted to it,” he adds.
In February 2017, the Ministry of Manpower issued new regulations to facilitate part-time jobs for Omanis – specifying minimum pay, working hours among various other benefits.
“We (Zawel founders) have taken part in national surveys to employ Omanis but we noticed that authorities were essentially focusing on ‘prominent’ jobs. So, we thought of starting Zawel to build bridges between job owners and those who are looking for part-time jobs,” Al Ghafri explains.
The project will be free of charge and is expected to start in less than a month.
“The website will require personal data for registration, wherein members should mention their experience and relevant skills while companies can use the search engine to find the suitable talent. Firms can also announce vacancies.”
However, Qais al Khonji , an award-winning Omani businessman and board member of Sharakah (a closed-joint stock company that provides financial and post-financial support to Small and Medium Enterprises), asserts that the government must step in and amend “some laws”.
“Before we talk about starting successful businesses to create jobs, we should focus on providing a healthy eco-system that would help SMEs to become successful,” says Al Khonji.
“This is where the Ministry of Commerce and Industry must come into the picture and make sure to review their laws and regulations and to create a one stop shop within – to develop the grounds of the eco-system properly.”
He believes that such projects will increase the success ratio of start-ups and will assure healthy job creation for young Omanis.
“We should focus on easing up laws related to foreign investments. If an investor is willing to invest a minimum amount of let’s say RO1million or more, I am against the idea of him having a local partner,” Al Khonji tells Y.
He also calls upon authorities to open the market for serious investors.
“Let them feel that they have the upper hand. It’s a healthy practice that will ensure job creation. He or she needs to gain trust that they won’t face any troubles by their silent partners.
Therefore, laws with regard to foreign investments need to be reviewed, the businessman says.
“Whether the new projects will work for the benefit of those unemployed, we will have to wait and see,”
“I can feel the pain and sadness in my son, who has now been waiting for a job for over two years. He has been sitting as the cashier in my restaurant, and that is something we do not want to see an engineering graduate do. But as they say patience is everything. So, that is the only virtue that will pull him – and the 50,000-odd Omani kids who are waiting for jobs.”