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Monday, 10 February 2020

Why Egypt’s private universities need to up their investment in university career centers

Why career centers at Egypt’s universities need more resources to better meet the demands of the job market: Egypt’s universities have recognized the importance of tailored career services to better prepare their students for the job market. The number of centers are rising and demand for them by both students and potential employees is strong. But some argue that many universities are still not investing sufficient resources in dedicated career services to meet the needs of their students. Many of Egypt’s universities are failing to provide more extensive career services, such as tailored mentorship programs to help students understand what career they want to pursue and which knowledge and skills they need to develop. This service provision is essential to tackle the frequently-cited (pdf) mismatch between education outputs and labor market needs among Egypt’s university graduates.

Dedicated career centers have been growing among private universities since the 1990s. The AUC Career Center was founded in 1991 as the first career center in Egypt and the region, and has evolved from its starting point as a team of three, focusing primarily on the recruitment needs of AUC students, to a team of 20 offering a variety of extensive services that target labor market KPIs. Since then, a number of private universities have begun offering career advisory services. GUC has its own Student Career & Alumni Development (SCAD), while the Arab Academy of Science, Technology and Maritime Transport (AASTMT) is planning to launch its own career center in the coming weeks. The latter is aiming to serve 23k students in 8 campuses in Egypt, says career development director Ayman Shawki. It will focus on students better understanding their skills and interests, assessing their career paths, practicing mock interviews, and establishing links with prospective employers, he says.

Public universities are also expanding on their career services, through a joint program between AUC, USAID, and the Higher Education Ministry University. The pilot phase of this Employability and Career Development Center (ECDC) program ran from 2012-2017 and saw three ECDCs established in three different universities — including one in the Faculty of Engineering, Ain Shams University, which currently serves 4k out of its 14k student body on a yearly basis, according to Ain Shams ECDC acting director Rana Emad. The current phase of the program aims at establishing 20 career centers at 14 public universities across Egypt by 2021, says Sarah Banashek, USAID Egypt Deputy Director, Office of Education and Health. By the end of the program, they hope to reach 70% of Egypt’s public university students.

Some, however, have also called into question the efficacy of these services at most universities. Many universities only offer career services within the framework of student development offices, which are more focused on student activities than filling the gap between university graduates and the job market, says Akram Marwan, founder and managing director of iCareer, a for-profit startup offering professional development services to universities and students.

A notable exception appears to be AUC, where 86% of students who used the AUC Career Center’s services in 2017 have found employment, says director of career advising and campus engagement at AUC Dalia Awad. In 2018-2019, 5.9k students and alumni used the services of the AUC Career Center. That works out as about 40% of the undergraduate student body who made use of these services, says Awad. The university had some 8k job listings and 1.7k internships posted on its Career Service Management (CSM) system last year. The AUC model goes a step beyond the typical career advisory services by offering career mentoring programs. These include immersive and experiential learning, individual career advising, mock interviews, formal and informal assessments, resumé feedback, and organizing employment fairs, says Awad.

Raising the bar for these services is constrained, in part, by a lack of funding. These service providers do not charge students for their services. University career service departments we’ve spoken with — including those of AUC and Ain Shams — confirmed that, while they can cover the costs of the employment fairs they run by charging companies a fee to attend, they depend on funds from their university budgets to both maintain and extend their services.

And apart from AUC, universities aren’t tracking how effective their approach is. Currently AUC is the only university that tracks how many of the students using its career services actually get placed in employment. If all universities collected such data, it would allow them to track the progress and measure the value of their career centers much more accurately, says Marwan. And it is not a difficult process — it simply requires resources, argues Emad.

The private sector’s input is crucial to the efficacy of a career center: The private sector’s involvement appears to help with the efficacy of career centers under the USAID-AUC ECDC program, according to USAID’s Banashek. One of the outcomes of the program is that the centers have developed in alignment with the needs of companies and industries in their geographic region. Each career center will develop somewhat differently thanks to the private sector buy-in, she says. So growth in Port Said, where there is a lot of trade and factory investment, may well look different to Upper Egypt or the Red Sea, where there is more of a focus on tourism, she says. She cites this cooperation as essential to the success of the Ain Shams ECDC, which now operates autonomously and without the help of the program. This ECDC has also developed a special service to help companies fulfil their recruitment needs, which is particularly important for industries such as tech, that face high market competitiveness, says Emad.

Meanwhile, for-profit career service organizations are also looking to fill the gap in demand for these services. iCareer is on the brink of launching an AI-powered localized platform that will serve as a public message website, where users can do a personal assessment to match them with jobs based on their values. The platform keeps iterating the results based on data received and the students’ feedback loop, says Marwan. Partner universities will essentially be able to use this as a CSM, he says. And interestingly, it will be able to provide a lot of big-image data that gives users insights into their own interests, personalities, and trends.

Ultimately, both breadth and depth of career service provision needs to scale to meet demand. The ECDC program shows how multi-sector partnerships can be leveraged to build career service capacity, and it may create a pipeline of career centers — like the ECDC at Ain Shams — that can be responsive to market needs. But to really meet the demands of a changing job market, more university career centers need the resources to continually develop their own expertise and to offer more sophisticated services to many more students.

Monday, 10 February 2020

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