A new initiative in Oman is aiming to encourage the creation of new SMEs and cut joblessness among young people.

The government has given its backing with a OMR70 million fund available to young entrepreneurs wanting to start a business. And the state-owned Oman Development Bank is offering incentives, which include favourable interest rates on loans and exemption from loan repayments during the first year.

Despite an active Omanisation programme, the country is struggling with high unemployment among nationals, with the drop in oil prices and a slow economy limiting job opportunities. There are more than 54,000 registered jobseekers, according to Oman’s Ministry of Manpower (MoM), and unemployment in 2016 stood at 18 per cent. A significant proportion of this group are new graduates.

School dropouts also add to the number of jobseekers, with 6,129 registered, although a spokesperson for the ministry estimates the real number could be almost double that. The Ministry of Education (MoE) reports that one in three students in Oman, in public and private education, leave school without a diploma, which equates to around 16,000 students annually.

Mohammed Al Kharusi, CEO of talent development and chairman at Intersearch Oman, said: “Many schools and colleges do not equip their students with skills required in business and industry. Fortunately, the government, with assistance from Petroleum Development Oman (PDO) and other organisations, has embarked on training Omanis to upskill them not only for the oil and gas industry, but also for other industries where skills are lacking.

“High school dropouts are at the bottom of the food chain and become victims as they miss out on career counselling and do not stand a chance to get any meaningful employment as even the few large employers offering vocational training only recruit those with a high school diploma. They compete with the large number of qualified high school and university graduates for jobs.”

A spokesperson from OPAL (Oman Society for Petroleum Services), a non-profit organisation designed to provide a single umbrella body to agree and promote standards of work competence and professionalism, said: “The oil and gas sector is working with the MoM to enhance national occupational standards and to enable them to produce internationally recognised vocational qualifications.

“The recently changed naming of ‘vocational training centres’ to ‘college’ status should go some way to encourage youngsters to join such colleges for trade and technician vocational training. Also, the recently introduced National Training Fund should encourage companies to sponsor technicians' training. The latest development is the agreement for vocational colleges to accept dropouts for continued vocational education similar to what we used to have in Oman before – which was technical schools,” he added.

Petroleum Development Oman (PDO) is actively helping to get Omani youths into jobs. PDO offers sponsored vocational training schemes to Omanis through its National Objectives Programme, which it has run since 2011. To date, the scheme has created more than 30,000 jobs for Omanis, in trades such as electrical technician, mechanical technician and welder.

PDO’s external affairs and value creation director, Abdul-Amir Abdul-Hussein Al Ajmi, said: “Our National Objectives programme is based on training jobseekers for skilled positions with low Omanisation levels but a high industry demand, so that they can forge good careers in their chosen area, and work either in the Sultanate or abroad.”

PDO’s head of national objectives, Maryam Al Maskari, said: “We started by focusing solely on high school graduates, but this has since developed to include high school dropouts and college graduates with technical diplomas, to target as many without jobs as possible.”

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