By Mohamed El-Sayed
Today, well over two years into the Egyptian revolution, increased numbers of Egyptian youth are still struggling to find jobs. With political instability looming large, the economy receives one blow after another. Unemployment has hit new highs – 13 percent according to the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics – and businesses have suffered.
However, just as the Internet was used to stage the “e-revolution” in which websites such as Facebook and Twitter were used as megaphones for young activists, it is now being utilized to unlock Egypt’s untapped markets and youth potential.
E-commerce (buying and selling products using the Internet) is gradually becoming a means of providing new jobs for fresh graduates. According to participants in a regional e-commerce conference held last month in Cairo, Internet-based marketing in Egypt is growing by 25 percent monthly thanks to increased access to the Internet – and social networking sites in particular – since the revolution. Currently around 31 million Egyptians (39 percent of the population) have access to the Internet according to the Communications and Information Technology Ministry.
Today, websites such as Souq.com, Jumia.com, Nefsak.com and Deal‘N’Deal, to name a few, have become familiar names for Egyptian shoppers. A quick glance at the demographics of these companies’ offices in Cairo reveals that the majority of employees are fresh graduates. Many of the young e-commerce specialists have received training upon joining these companies which are looking to grow and are keen to help their employees acquire the necessary skills.
To capitalize on this opportunity for growth, Souq.com, the largest internet-based marketing platform in the Arab world, championed the creation of a training academy for young people working in Internet-based commerce. Established in cooperation with the Education for Egyptian Employment (EFE-Egypt), the academy ran its first e-commerce training program for 120 students in February of this year.
Souq.com officials see the training as a way to address a severe shortage in young, qualified specialists. “The partnership with EFE-Egypt on this strategic initiative will serve as a catalyst for skills development and job creation for the next generation of Egyptian technology professionals,” says the general manager of Souq.com, Omar Soudodi.
The program, in fact, was specifically tailored to address a chronic lack of the skill-sets needed in the Egyptian job market, given that none of the Egyptian universities currently provide specialized e-commerce courses.
“Roughly 80 percent of Egyptians aged 15 to 29 already suffer from unemployment, while the market is lacking in qualified e-commerce specialists,” says EFE-Egypt CEO Shahinaz Ahmad. “The training program is meant to provide qualified e-commerce specialists to cater to the country’s growing appetite for everything online,” she added. The program, explains Ahmad, is “a clear win-win scenario for everyone – employers, employees and the Egyptian economy as well.”
Trainees gained expertise in marketing, logistics, Google AdWords, supply chain management, relationship management, social media, order fulfillment and packing. Having obtained the necessary skills through the course, Souq.com hired the top students who passed their training program successfully.
Other similar initiatives have recently spread e-commerce learning in different parts of the country. For example, an e-commerce club opened branches under the umbrella of Cairo University in three governorates – Cairo, Alexandria and Assiut – to provide specialized training for fresh university graduates.
“I’m now receiving training at the club so that I can join an Internet-based marketing company,” said Mohammad Shawqi, a fresh university graduate taking specialized courses in the coastal city of Alexandria. “With unemployment among fresh graduates on the rise, I believe e-commerce will help the economy get back on its feet,” he said. “Since e-commerce is still in its infancy in Egypt, it has a great potential for growth.”
For e-commerce to become more established in Egypt, additional training initiatives are needed.
According to leading market strategy research firm Euromonitor International, the size of e-commerce in Egypt is expected to hit the $446.4 million mark by 2016. And as the sector grabs more shoppers from the grey market that, according to estimates by business experts, currently makes up 40 percent of the Egyptian market, Internet-based marketing and expanded trainings for youth to develop required skills could be a springboard for economic growth and development in Egypt.
Mohamed El-Sayed is an Egyptian journalist. THE DAILY STAR publishes this commentary in collaboration with the Common Ground News Service (www.commongroundnews.org).
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 08, 2013, on page 7.