Every week, the Soukie Speaks’ Club Courage series celebrates a brave entrepreneur in the Arab startup ecosystem, by sharing their story and the impact that their startup is having on the community. This week I interviewed Khalid Alali Founder of Wadhefty.
1) Tell us a little about yourself, your educational background and how you got into entrepreneurship.
My dedication to providing solutions to local problems started at an early age. By the age of 12, I had my first taste of entrepreneurship when I built two progressive micro-businesses in Saudi Arabia: a DJ service and a music CD operation.
Despite the popularity of my services as the go-to person for great music, I closed down the businesses when I graduated from high school.
My dream was to build larger businesses to help foster a sustainable economy. This led me to study commerce at the University of Western Ontario and Concordia University. After college, I joined McKinsey & Company as a consultant in the Dubai office.
My consulting experience equipped me with the problem solving and leadership skills that I needed to tackle one of the Middle East’s most challenging problems – youth unemployment.
2)What is Wadhefty and what can customers expect from your service?
Wadhefty or “My job” in Arabic is a social enterprise that is targeted towards supporting Arab youth gain employment. It’s bread and butter is a CV writing service that is both in Arabic and English, but it also provides free content and advice on best practices for finding employment. Best of all, the content is region focused and targeted at youth.
3) Do you have any recommendations or best practices that your customers should follow after sending their Wadhefty CV to prospective employers?
It depends on the nature of the relationship between the candidate and the employer. If the CV was sent online without a previous contact in the company, it is usually best to send a follow up email after 1-2 weeks. Depending on the candidate’s fit for the role this may help them stand out in the screening process. However, generally, it is advisable to try and meet or speak with individuals in the company before sending a CV. What you do before applying can often be more impactful than what you can do after applying. One of our contributors recently published a helpful article on how to increase your chances of success in the application process.
4) What do you think are the top three problems that job seekers in the MENA region face and why?
1: More needs to be done to spur and encourage entrepreneurship and the growth of SMEs. In developed markets like the United States, SMEs employ about 50% of workers, whereas in Saudi Arabia SMEs only employ 25% of workers. A thriving SME ecosystem could employ millions of workers across the MENA region and help take our economies to the next level.
2: Education in most GCC nations does not encourage skills needed for a knowledge economy e.g., critical thinking, soft skills and instead focuses on memorization of theories. We can’t expect youth to thrive and contribute to our economic growth if we don’t equip them with the right skills.
3: There is a shortage of skilled jobs in most of the MENA region, leading to underemployment. In GCC countries this is partly driven by a private sector that has historically depended on cheap foreign labor to perform low-skilled/manual tasks. This could be remedied by the private sector investing capital in more advanced equipment and processes that require higher skilled labor. Encouraging this change at scale is a challenge for policy makers.
5) Do you think the job recruitment culture in the MENA region is hindering youth from finding employment? If so, how?
There are 3 major problems in recruitment culture in the MENA region
1: The culture of “Wasta” or nepotism is a major obstacle for individuals trying to launch their careers. Finding a first job or internship without Wasta can definitely be a challenge. The good news is the Wasta advantage tends to disappear over the long run as merit becomes more important.
2: Another cultural obstacle faced by job seekers in MENA is blatant discrimination. This can take many forms, the most common being: gender, nationality, tribe, and religious sect. Discrimination is well documented for women where in several countries young female unemployment exceeds 30%.
3: There is a shortage of career advice and career content in Arabic. I was always shocked to receive 100s of CVs with candidates who put their “Target Job” as “Any job.” Clearly, universities and the media need to be do more to help individuals understand how to apply for jobs.
Disclaimer: Each country has its own challenges but these are some of the broad themes I’ve witnessed in the GCC.
6) In the West, many young people are encouraged to get a job, so they can start building the resume and skills needed to be successful in their future professional lives. However, in the Arab world, most young people don’t engage in the formal workforce and most don’t write their first resume until they’re just about to graduate from university. So, how can we encourage Arabs to start thinking about building their resumes and professional skills at a younger age, so they can thrive in the current workforce?
Governments and universities have a critical role to play in setting policies that encourage youth to gain work experience. For instance, some academic programs in Qatar requires students to volunteer in order to graduate. This is an excellent way to encourage youth to be more involved in the community and develop their resumes. The Saudi Ministry of Labour recently launched a program to encourage employers to employ students in summer internships. These initiatives are a step in the right direction towards developing youth capabilities from a younger age.
7) Not only does the MENA region have the highest youth unemployment rate in the world, it also has a lot of underemployed youth. Do you think this problem stems from the inability of young people to market themselves or does it stem from the job market itself?
I think in most cases the problem of underemployment stems from the job market. For instance, in Canada, where there are tremendous resources to support individuals in marketing themselves, 4 in 10 university graduates are underemployed. A reliance on cheap foreign labor is further exacerbating this problem in GCC nations. This being said, I think that in our region there is a substantial segment of the population who could elevate their employment level with better CVs and career counselling.
8) While Wadhefty provides a valuable service to young Arabs, it only solves a symptom of the real problem, which is a lack of educational and career counseling in the region. How can Wadhefty help high schools and universities build the capacity of young people, so they are better prepared for the existing workforce?
In 2016, Wadhefty is launching Career Workshops. We hope to partner with universities across the region to deliver workshops that can help bridge the career counselling gap. We also hope to share our blog with universities and university students.
9) What project(s) is Wadhefty working on currently and how would you like to see the startup grow?
In 2016, Wadhefty hopes to further expand its service offering to support individuals across their career journey.
1: Create online courses to support individuals in attaining skills required by employers
2: Partner with leading employers to tailor curricula to their requirements and create job opportunities for individuals who take Wadhefty courses.
3: Partner with educational institutions, recruitment agencies and other stakeholders to further expand Wadhefty’s reach
10) How can people learn more about you and your project(s)
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