Job fairs power Afghanistan’s economy with local hires

By Michelle Tolson

August 31, 2015

Kabul­—In the wake of the withdrawal of multinational forces and a subsequent reduction in international and domestic investment, Afghanistan’s growing private sector is filling a vital need for the national economy.

But growth for the private sector has not always translated into more jobs for Afghans.

Because of ongoing conflict and limited educational opportunities in Afghanistan, many mid-level and managerial positions in sectors from information and communications technology to education, media and construction, have been filled with foreign workers or have simply been left vacant.

“Employers have to rely on foreign labour or have to hire their close relatives—even if they are not qualified and lack the key skills required by the job,” explains Salem Helali, Chief of Party for the Afghanistan Workforce Development Program. “This is due to lack of initiatives and platforms that would bring the job seekers and employers together and facilitate discussion and networking.”

But that is changing. Through the Afghanistan Workforce Development Program, launched in 2012, thousands of Afghan employees and job seekers have improved their skills through competency-based training programs tailored to the needs of the market. The program is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and implemented by Creative Associates International.

Afghan employers are reporting benefits from the program, from more equipped staff to a better business reputation.

“Through these training programs, last year my staff learned accounting skills with the credibility needed for larger international and national contracts,” says Habibullah Arghawan, President of Oqiyanos Road and Construction Company in Herat.

This not only has helped Arghawan’s business grow, he says, but it has also saved him money on recruitment as the training “has removed the need to hire from abroad.”

To date, the Afghanistan Workforce Development Program has trained approximately 20,000 Afghans, 36 percent of whom are women, and placed and promoted more than 11,000 Afghans in semi-professional work. Together with the Ministry of Education, the program has a goal to train, find work or secure promotions for 25,000 Afghans.

Job fair debuts, creates connections

Women job seekers register for the Herat Mega Job Fair on June 16, 2015.
Photo by Michelle Tolson.

At the frontline of this effort are Afghanistan’s private technical, vocational and business education training providers.

These training providers are critical links in the chain—working with the private sector to assess labor market demands and design targeted training curriculum, and connecting qualified trainee graduates to companies with positions to fill.

Recently, the program training providers have been expanding their reach and increasing employer-potential employee connections by facilitating multi-sector job fairs, a relatively new forum for hiring in Afghanistan.

The training and job fairs are empowering job seekers to better prepare themselves for the market and present themselves to potential employers.

“University graduates should learn how to find a job for themselves. They should know who employs and which field of work is available for them,” says Governor of Herat province Mohammad Asif Rahimi. “During an interview, when the interview panel asks a question, the job seeker often cannot answer. This skill—how to appear in an interview—should be taught to them. The ones who interview are the professionals; therefore, we have to make the job seekers ready for the interviews.”

Afghanistan Workforce Development Program training providers in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif organized in May the city’s first multi-sector job fair to introduce demand-driven training to the region’s private sector firms and provincial government.

The two day job fair held May 5-6 was co-hosted by five USAID-funded training providers and officiated by Deputy Provincial Governor Mohammad Zaher Wahdat. The event was attended by more than 700 people. More than 50 private sector companies in construction, marketing, financial management and other industries showcased their services.

With support from the Afghanistan Workforce Development Program, training providers facilitated 432 on-site interviews between trained job seekers and a variety of private sector companies. In turn, these companies were given a chance to screen and hire skilled workers or register their current employees for competency-based skills training.

One such successful applicant was 27-year-old Sayed Hamid, who landed a position at Mutahed Finance Development Institute at the fair after being trained in marketing by the Paiwand Emroz Social and Cultural Organization.

“The training was so helpful for finding a job,” says Hamid. “The pre-employment services training gives a complete image of this process and helps us to perform well in finding, applying and performing during job-interviews.”

In a trainee graduation ceremony at the job fair, 241 private sector employees trained through the program graduated with job promotions with salary increases of at least 3 percent, while another 67 job seekers found jobs.

Hamid, who was placed as a loan officer, says he “is happy” in his job, and he credits not only the pre-employment training but also his marketing course for giving him an added advantage in a job market where competency-based skills are in high demand.

Job fair fever spreads to Herat

The booth of a private university at the Herat Mega Job Fair where job seekers bring their CVs for consideration.
Photo by Michelle Tolson.

The Mazar-e-Sharif event was so successful that training providers in the western city of Herat decided to replicate the job fair concept, and take it up a notch, in their home city.

In May, seven USAID-funded training providers launched a series of strategy meetings with the provincial government, Herat’s Governor Mohammad Asif Rahimi and a network of companies including the Afghanistan Industrial Association and Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Industries.

These advance meetings generated a great deal of buzz around the Afghanistan Workforce Development Program’s demand-driven model; resulting in the placement of 128 job seekers in jobs in Herat during the three-week outreach campaign leading up to the event June 16-17.

Living up to its name, the first “Herat Mega Job Fair” attracted more than 10,000 job seekers, civil society representatives, government officials and employers—ten times the 1,000 attendees the organizers had anticipated.

During his opening speech the Herat governor explained that while these events bring opportunities to find jobs, that it is the job seeker who must take steps to secure a position, not the companies.

“The aim of such job fair events is to introduce the employer and the job seeker to each other. While all job seekers may not get employed here, this is a networking opportunity and through this they can follow up later,” said Rahimi.

Ensuring jobseekers maximized their chances for success at the fair, training providers hosted a no-cost CV development corner where assistants formatted more than 1,000 resumes using and copied and printed more than 12,000.

“Companies appreciate job seekers who are well prepared and have a professional attitude,” says Aniss Faiaz, a provincial coordinator at Society Empowerment Organization—a training provider funded by the program.

Faiaz worked with trainees in advance of the job fair to better prepare CVs and strengthen communication and interviewing skills. This preparation, she says, allows employers to make more rapid hires.

Job placement officers, like Faiaz, were on-hand at the fair to direct job seekers to the 105 private sector companies, nongovernmental organizations and government entities exhibiting at 80 USAID-provided booths. These employers received more than 6,000 CVs, and AWDP-supported job placement officers distributed around 3,000 employment forms to job seekers.

Program-supported training providers also awarded their combined 1,200 graduates, both private sector employees and job seekers, certificates at the job fair in a large graduation ceremony.

By the end of the event, 320 USAID-trained job seekers were shortlisted for positions and another 60 were immediately offered work. Six weeks after the event, more than 300 semi-professionals had been either promoted or offered skilled work.

After the fair—Enduring ties to grow business

With the successful Mazar-e-Sharif and Herat job fairs behind them, training providers in both cities are eager to build on their experiences and add to the connections they have already made with the private sector.

“This initiative brought us a huge knapsack of experience on how to be more interactive with the private sector,” says Hassen Poreya, a provincial coordinator/CEO at Microsis, an information and communications technology training provider in Herat city.

With the program’s support throughout the job fair experience, Poreya says, he learned how to work with Afghan companies, “even in a tough and harsh market such as Afghanistan.”

Poreya is cataloguing his list of new contacts and looking to the future.

“All these new clients and entities are saved into our business directory, which is a huge connection channel,” he says. “We now have close relations and connections with over 80 companies, which is a huge opportunity for our company to make business with them.”

Landing the job

But the primary beneficiary of the job fair is, of course, the job seeker.

One such job seeker is 23-year-old Alireza Khawari, living in Herat. Though educated in accounting, Khawari says he had trouble finding work in his field.

“I was seeking my ideal job; but I had difficulties finding a job matching with my skills,” he says. “On the other hand, I did not know about employment related services—including how to write a CV, how to find a job via different channels, how to make a successful interview and so on.  And this lack of skills made me hopeless.”

Through technical as well as communications and presentation skills training with training provider Microcis, Khawari gained confidence and was eager to put his new skills to use at the Herat job fair—where he was hired as a Computer Teacher by the Neswan Association, a civil society organization.

“I was hired and now I am happy,” he says.

With reporting by Aziz Gulbahari.

To read about past projects in Afghanistan, please click here.

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