By Kulthoom Al Khamayasi, YES 2005-2006, Oman, hosted by AYUSA in Traverse City, MI
My name is Kulthoom Al Khamayasi and I am a researcher in economics with a degree in natural resource economics from Sultan Qaboos University in Muscat, Oman. In 2013, during my last year at university, my colleague Hassan Al-Busaidi(YES 2007-2008 hosted by AYUSA in Rapid City, South Dakota) and I decided to start a project with the aim of serving youth by targeting one of the biggest problems that new graduates face in Oman, as well as the entire Arabia Gulf, youth unemployment. We realized that the most appropriate way to reach young Omanis is through technology. We went to the Oman American Business Councils who supported us in starting the online platform JISSEROman.com, or JISSER, which means bridge in Arabic, to bridge the hiring gap between students and employers.
Youth unemployment has received significant attention among global economic worries in the last few years and the Middle East and the Gulf are regions with a youth bulge, as 60% of population is below 30 years old. The region has one of the highest youth unemployment rates and the lowest youth labor force participation, and Oman is no exception. One of the main difficulties facing youth in their job search is that they often lack relevant work experience, which extends their unemployment. The long term consequence is a society in which individuals are dependent on families or public sector employment only, rather than a competitive labor work force. To address the issue directly, we believed that a platform like JISSER was needed in order to provide a match-making space for internship opportunities that students/recent graduates and employers can use.
There are 50,000 graduates entering the job market from secondary school in Oman every year. While there are other job platforms available throughout the country, our primary market is the unemployed twenty-five percent of 18 to 29 year olds who seek work experience through an internship before competing for jobs. We worked hard to gain support for our idea. We started by approaching the corporate social responsibility (CSR) departments of local businesses and we received positive responses. We held seminars and workshops to understand youth needs as they seek jobs and internships and to introduce JISSER’s services. We also held seminars, including at the Oman Annual Employment and Higher Education Exhibition, for company hiring managers and CSR staff where we shared the data and ideas we collected from our youth seminars. The YES alumni grant we received in 2016 helped us to revise the JISSER interface and database completely, making it more appealing and user-friendly.
JISSER now connects major internship providers to over 5,000 internship seekers throughout Muscat. However, we are most proud of the fact that we built a reputation as one of the important youth-led social innovation solutions. We even received awards from the Emirates Foundation Youth Gulf Competition in Abu Dhabi and the Annual Competition for Youth-led Projects by Al Roya Newspaper in Oman.
We have many success stories. One of our internship seekers was Khulood Al Wahaibi who trained at Abraj Energy Services. She shared the concern of most of her peers as she graduated from Sultan Qaboos University, “After graduating this year I immediately started my search for an internship to gain as much experience as possible before I could apply for jobs. It is almost impossible to get a job without an internship because I lack experience, and just accepting any job would not provide me with the professional experience I need in order to build my skills and resume. JISSER helped me find the internship I needed.”
Mr. Khalid Al-Busaidi, Chairman of ProLens, an Oman-based public relations firm, was one of the first supporters of the JISSER platform, “We see JISSER as a very important initiative in terms of preparing our young labor force and integrating them into the work environment.”
At JISSER we are now considering growing and restructuring as a non-profit business to provide services in a sustainable manner. Until now JISSER has only provided its services seasonally, based on the availability of our volunteers and the founding members. Because of this, we have not been able to capitalize in regions beyond Muscat and respond fully to the business market. By becoming a business and hiring a full time employee, JISSER can extend its services to a wide market, create revenue and growth projections, and allow current users, i.e. our future customers, to use our services with more convenience and guarantee of success. To make the move to a viable business, we need a space for our employees, and we will need to continue to grow our workshops and seminars. This will require a capital investment, but we anticipate growth projections that will make it possible.
The JISSER team deserves credit for getting us to where we are now. Since the YES Oman Alumni Association is a small group, we invited other young, skilled activists to help us. Each member contributed his/her own special skills in order to make the program successful. Fatma Sulaiman, our youngest volunteer, began working with us out of an interest in improving her public speaking skills, and left as a certified trainer after completing a JISSER Training of Trainers course. Salim Al Abri, a newly-graduated mechanical engineer and a job seeker with a strong interest in Information Technology, ended up creating the first version of the JISSER website, which was used to register thousands of internship seekers and created the preliminary database. Maher Al Kindi, a manager at a major training organization who wanted to keep connected to the field of training, developed and provided many workshops at JISSER. Asila Mohammed joined our project as a shy student who wanted to gain communication and management skills, and is now the manager of the entire JISSER project.
In recent years, the government of Oman has led efforts to empower youth but as the founders of JISSER we found that our lack of experience in the beginning made it difficult to receive as much support as we hoped for. Therefore we decided to take the training from the YES alumni workshops that we attended including the YES 10th Anniversary workshop I attended in Istanbul in 2013 and the YES Alumni Transformational Leadership Training in Amman in 2014 which my co-founder Hassan Al-Busaidi attended and put our learning to good use. AMIDEAST, which manages the YES program in Oman, provided great support, as well as the use of their facilities for workshops and meetings. The Oman American Business Council's provided us guidance and financial support and the U.S. Department of State’s, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, which sponsors the YES program, provided both Hassan and I the spark that we needed to initiate JISSER.