x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Inside the mind of a young jobseeker

Psychologist helps with choice of career as school advice on employment opportunities is rare and weekend jobs for under-18s are illegal

Devika Singh runs group sessions to help students to choose a career. Pawan Singh / The National
Devika Singh runs group sessions to help students to choose a career. Pawan Singh / The National

DUBAI // Students trying to work out what career they should pursue are turning to an unlikely source for help: a psychologist.

Devika Singh from the Dubai Herbal Treatment Centre says her group sessions are filling a gap in the market and allow the students to share their anxieties in a social and familiar environment.

Students take a written assessment, the Interest Determination, Exploration and Assessment System, compiled by the US education provider, Pearson. It helps to establish what areas they are interested in and what they are good at.

"The kids are talking about this at school, but for most of them this kind of written assessment is something new," Ms Singh said.

Since weekend jobs are illegal for under-18s - although evening jobs are allowed, under a new labour law introduced this month - and work placements are in short supply, students are often anxious about their options because they have no experience of the world of work.

The assessment asks them, for example, what they like to do in their free time, what they like to read about, what their dream job would be. Based on their answers it suggests possible career options.

Ramee Vaswani sent her daughter, Suhaina, to a session with Ms Singh. Aged 20, Suhaina is in her final year studying business management at the American University Dubai, and older than most of the high-school students at the sessions. She is still not sure what she wants to do after university.

Her mother says what little career guidance was available at the Indian High School only left her more confused.

"These group sessions enable the students to share ideas and see different perspectives," Mrs Vaswani said. "It has allowed Suhaina to gain a better insight into herself and see her strengths.

"She came out of the session far more confident. Devika has identified that she is more creative, so when she graduates she will specialise in in something like marketing."

Natasha Ridge, of the Dubai School of Government, said: "There is clearly a sense of desperation among parents about how to educate their kids on the possibilities open to them. People don't really know what choices they have."

Careers counselling at private schools is limited, and at state schools it is often virtually non-existent. The acting director general of the Ministry of Education, Ali Maihad al Suwaidi, said efforts needed to be stepped up to change this.

"Students are not aware of the different career opportunities and cannot think beyond certain jobs which they believe will provide them with maximum benefit.

"We are training counsellors who will work with high school students and expose them to other professions they should consider.

"Their guidance will help to increase youth participation in sectors that need to be developed in the UAE."

The problem is not new; lack of counselling has been blamed for the high drop-out rate among high-school boys. Many take jobs with the police or military, or start university but do not make it past their foundation year. Often they are simply unaware of what will be required of them later in life.

The Sharjah Higher Colleges of Technology identified the need for counsellors, and set up a degree course to train specialists seven years ago.

Its director, Farid Ohan, admitted that very few graduates from that programme had ended up in the school system, although one or two have found jobs in other institutions, such as Zayed University.

"It seems that most of the schools do not have the budget for such positions," he said.

He said that when students first join them, they have no more than a vague idea about their career goals or interests. As part of their foundation course, they are given classes that aim to get them thinking about their personal interests, career goals, and the area in which they want to specialise.

"Twice during their first year, we put on a programme choice activity that exposes them to the different programmes on offer," he said.

"This includes visits to the different programme areas in the college, and presentations by current students, graduates, staff and employers."



* With additional reporting from Afshan Ahmed