Teens have few options for pre-college work experience in UAE
DUBAI // Few employment and internship opportunities available to teenagers may be putting them at a disadvantage when it comes to applying for colleges or universities overseas, experts and parents say.
Students who are not able to secure co-ops, internships or even part-time summer jobs also miss out on developing good work ethics, professional communications and other character-building skills that colleges and future employers look for in a well-rounded individual.
“There is definitely a disadvantage because if you are an admissions person and you have three students, two of whom have those kinds of experiences and one who doesn’t, naturally you would favour a person with that kind of exposure – given all other things being the same,” said Rema Menon, owner of Counselling Point, an education consulting firm that helps students apply to universities at home and abroad.
In 2011, the Ministry of Labour introduced new laws allowing national and expatriate students to work part-time, with some restrictions, beginning at age 15. In order to be employed, the teenagers must provide a medical certificate proving they are fit to work and get permission from their parents. Teenagers aged 18 and over must apply for a part-time work permit, which carry a more rigorous and costly application process.
But while it is legal to hire these young workers, the opportunities open to them are few.
“It is very limited,” Mrs Menon said. “Every time I have students who are interested, we approach certain companies and we ask and they say there are some repercussions, there are certain policies and unless we have the government approval, we can’t do that. It is an impediment.”
Sometimes the only way to get a student’s foot in the door – even for an unpaid co-op, internship or apprenticeship – is by coaxing a relative or family friend to give the teenager a chance. “Very rarely, it’s through, as they say, wasta. You know somebody and they have their own company or they know somebody,” she said.
Sunita Mirchandani, a mother of two sons who works as a lead adviser for education and training at the British Embassy, said it should not be this difficult for teenagers to get work experience.
“There should be more opportunities for internships and apprenticeships at the school level, particularly in sectors that the UAE needs skilled workers,” she said.
“There should be a drive to link academics with industry.
“It is important to have graduates who are ready for the work environment. Since a very large proportion of the population is expatriate, it is extremely important to encourage internships and apprenticeships in schools across different curricula, so that students can make the right career choices and the UAE can have graduates who have the skills needed for the job market.”
Unlike in many western countries where teenagers look forward to and are encouraged to get part-time jobs, here it is “out of the ordinary”, Mrs Menon said.
The student work culture “needs to be cultivated”, said Beth Ann Rupp, a consultant with EduEval Educational Consultancy, which is working on developing a programme to integrate students in the workplace.
“One of the main challenges with internships is when there isn’t a person coordinating them, a person who advocates for both the students’ learning experience and the employer’s interests,” Mrs Rupp said. “There needs to be someone to connect and support both sides for meaningful results.”