Afghan job-seekers & companies meet their match

By Michelle Tolson

December 23, 2014

Kabul—Afghanistan’s economy is on the brink. The International Labor Organization reports that 90 percent of jobs are “vulnerable,” lacking stability and sufficient income. Nearly half the population is “underemployed.” Underlying it all is a poor connection between the needs of the labor market and job training.

“One of the major obstacles ahead of progress and development is the shortage of skilled employees,” says Ali Saadat, President of Zohal Consultancy and Advertising, an Afghan-owned advertizing firm. “Much of the time we inevitably are hiring new graduates or people who have no background in the positions we need them [to have].”

The Afghanistan Workforce Development Program, a U.S. Agency for International Development-funded initiative, is bridging this gap by partnering with employers to implement technical and business jobs skills trainings that meet the needs of the market.

Through trainings, employment related services and job placements, the program matches skilled workers with quality jobs, boosting business and individual economic stability. To date, the program has trained more than 11,000 Afghans with demand-driven curriculum that links employers’ needs to workers’ skills.

“The future of this country pretty much depends on how the private sector performs and how it develops,” says Salem Helali, Chief of Party for the Afghanistan Workforce Development Program, which is implemented by Creative Associates International. “The first thing the private sector needs to do business and to be able to succeed is to have skilled labor.”

Click here to watch a video on the role of the private sector in post-conflict recovery.

New possibilities for job-seekers

Twenty-year old Selsela is all too familiar with the trouble facing job-seekers in her country. With two years of college education behind her in agriculture, she says she was unable to find a job in her field, a common experience for young, university-educated Afghans.

Nearly 400,000 new workers enter the labor force each year, most of whom are youth. The International Labor Organization finds that young Afghan workers tend to hold tenuous positions like apprenticeships and trainee roles, which leave them economically insecure and vulnerable.

“The important point is that most of people cannot find jobs in the field they are educated in,” says Mustafa Khalil, General Manager of Zohal at only 23 years old. “As we don’t have a clear sight of the job market demand, people complete their secondary education in a field that either looks attractive to them or that they have the opportunity of studying in.”

Through the Afghanistan Workforce Development Program, Ms. Selsela was trained in business management and human resources by the Impressive Consultancy Company, a grantee of the program. She joins nearly 4,000 other Afghan women trained through program grants dedicated to empowering women with business skills to meet the demands of a growing private sector.

AFG09241362-300x200 Ultimately, in partnership with the Afghanistan’s Deputy Ministry of Education for Technical Vocational Education and Training, the program seeks to increase salaries, wages or self-employment opportunities for 25,000 Afghans. At least 25 percent of program graduates will be women like Selsela.

Click here to see how AWDP participant Kamila Sidiqi is empowering other Afghan women.

After her training and with the support of the program, Selsela quickly landed a job at Zohal Consultancy and Advertising where she could put her new skills to use.

“People tell us they used to apply for more than 50 vacancies at a time without success. But this changed after AWDP’s intervention that helped with everything,” says Muzhgan Wafiq Alokozai, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Impressive Consultancy Company.

Through the program, job applicants gain practical knowledge, says Alokozai, including how to prioritize important info on a CV and best practices for interviews, like good eye contact, a professional appearance and tone of voice.

Selsela says she has gained valuable communication and professional skills through her training and work at Zohal. She dreams of one day owning her own company.

“AWDP is a great program, especially for those like me who do not have a lot of contacts,” she says. “[The program] changed an impossible situation to possible for me. This enabled me to find a job in another field, which I am happy for.”

Click here to see how the program is shifting workforce paradigms in Afghanistan.

Employers reap benefits

Employers participating in the program are highly satisfied with the quality of employees, like Selsela, that it has trained.

“We are grateful to USAID for introducing to us skilled job-seekers.” said Mr. Saadat.

Media companies like Zohal are booming in Afghanistan, with over 30 broadcast television stations in Kabul alone. But prior to programs like the Afghanistan Workforce Development Program, which is bases on a labor market needs assessment, the industry had trouble finding qualified individuals to meet its labor needs.

Zohal used to advertise employment vacancies through television and would receive between 100 to 200 applications for a single position, explains Khalil, which frequently did not show the right skills for the position.

Now, Khalil says, Impressive Consultancy Company selects qualified skilled candidates for Zohal, and other companies to review, ensuring labor supply and labor demand are matched. Khalil says the media sector, along with other industries, has greatly benefited from the introduction of a vetting process for well-trained employees through employment services.

This process, he explained, “made our job a lot easier.”

When employers can more easily find the right skilled workers for the job, they can get down to the real business of growing the private sector and, in the process, steering the economy and country down the road to recovery.

Edited by Aziz Gulbahari and Jillian Slutzker

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