Theodore Kattouf is the former US ambassador to the UAE and Syria. He now serves as the president and chief executive of America-Mideast Educational and Training Services (Amideast), a private Washington DC company that promotes ties between the Mena region and US educational institutions. He gives his view on what needs to be done to boost youth employment in Mena:
Q: What is the greatest challenge for young workers in this region?
A: Now, listen. I've lived all over this region: Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria, Kuwait and Yemen. When you talk to employers - and I'm not talking about American or British employers but Saudi and Egyptian employers - they complain job applicants do not have the level of English they need.
Q: But some do speak English and move elsewhere for jobs. What can be done to keep these skilled workers here?
A: Part of the reason we're seeing the current upheavals is that the youth of this region, who represent a huge proportion of the population, feel that they have insufficient opportunity to get a good education. Even when they have a good education, there are insufficient opportunities to get meaningful jobs because not enough good jobs are being created. The whole region just had a huge wake-up call.
Q: Amideast recently became the UAE's exclusive distributor of proficiency tests, including some that assess workplace communication. What else is your company doing to help this region?
A: There is a youth exchange and study programme at the 10th and 11th grade for students from places like the Mena region and Pakistan. They live with an American family and go to an American high school. It's a one-year experience. We have also had programmes to recruit young professional women from Mena, where they would do one-month executive studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Then they would be placed in four to five-month internships in several cities around the US, in fields like law, finance and business.
Q: How will programmes like these help this region's business community?
A: The desire was to expose young professional women to American ways of doing business, but also to see that in the US we have many women in many different professions rising to the top. They already have some fluency in English but this cements it. They could be cultural interpreters: interpret how business is done, law is practised and the like in the US. It's our hope that these young people will make their skills available in the Mena region.
Q: Has the unrest affected your business?
A: In recent years we have instituted a very high-quality study-abroad programme for American students. The countries we focused on were Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt and Jordan. As you can imagine, in Egypt we had to evacuate students during the troubles. Eighteen of those 21 students opted to join programmes ongoing in Morocco and Jordan, rather than be repatriated to the US.