News Column

Greeks in the UAE Underemployed

Feb 7, 2013

Amanda Fisher

They're young, qualified and jobless. Europe's hopeless cases, the Generation Y victims of a Eurocentric global recession have had to make compromises in order to survive.

As a result of the severe economical thrashings witnessed globally, many graduates across Europe have been deemed underemployed with many having to compromise on pay, career, and -- increasingly -- on their location. Thousands have been forced to look elsewhere to jump-start their ailing career, and with a rapidly developing Middle East cutting a stark contrast to the receding West, is the lucrative desert all it's cracked up to be?Imperial College Master's graduate Emilia Kouroussis has friends earning little over Dh1,200 a month back home in Greece. The 23-year-old, who holds a BSc in Chemistry and a Master's in Research from the prestigious London University, which consistently ranks inside the world's top ten, had to move to the UAE -- she had little other choice.After graduating in September 2011, she spent half a year in Greece searching futilely for a job before heading East. With her high calibre degree, you might have thought her options would be endless."Well that's what I thought, but there was nothing, it was horrible."Kouroussis was a victim of timing, she says. She had initially intended to get her PhD, but all the scholarships dried up as she neared the end of her Master's degree.

Her grades were respectable and she had been told by supervisors there would be projects available. After 10 months of rejections, Kouroussis says she gave up the dream and shifted to Greece, where she never really looked for a permanent job.

"(All the employers) wanted a PhD or three and a half years' work experience...we can't even get the work experience so how can we get a job?"

While in Greece, the proficient English speaker funded herself through short-term translation projects.

"It's very tight, I know a lot of kids who are at university or went to university working at restaurants and even their hours are starting to get cut."

Wages of some of her friends have gone from 700 Euro down to as low as 250. People still in Greece, particularly young people, are left feeling helpless, she says.

"They know why it's happening, obviously, but everyone's just angry they've got to a point where there's just no more options."

The daughter of Greek diplomats who now live in the country, Kouroussis went back to the nest in search of stable work. It took another six months before she picked up a job as a science teacher in Abu Dhabi last September, thanks to a family connection -- not quite the career path she had in mind.

"It's good...I'm just happy to have a job and make my own money."

A year of rejections was "kind of depressing, to be honest".

So used to rejection, she began to read the signs.

"I realised (if) I saw the words 'talent pool' that's the one they always use to reject you: 'We'll keep your CV in our talent pool'."

Kouroussis says previously she had met many Greeks in the country looking for jobs.

"Everyone comes here because they think you can find an easy job, but it's not that easy. You have to have connections, you need to know people to get a job...they'd gone to a lot of interviews but they just never got the call back."

She knows of people that spent five months in the UAE looking for a job, staying at friends' places.

"They knew that even if they went back to Greece they wouldn't find anything and here you might start small but you will work upwards, but in Greece there's not even that option."

But there is no perfect solution, she says, no matter the destination -- "Even America has its difficulties."

Top employment website's Sales Vice President Suail Masri says the UAE has long been a favourite destination for expatriates looking for work.

"(It) is becoming even more so lately and with the pace of recruitment picking up locally, the attractiveness of the UAE continues to soar. On, we have over 4,000 jobs advertised in the UAE alone on an average day and a similar number is usually employers (using our) database without publicly advertising their vacancies."

The UAE is a very attractive place to live and work, says Masri. According to's Best Cities in the MENA survey last year, respondents said Dubai and Abu Dhabi came first and second for livability, he says.

Masri says this year has seen a "robust increase" in hiring across the board, including in the sectors that were hard hit during the slower times.

"Certainly the quality of professional talent UAE employers are sourcing (suggest) Dubai has in no way lost its broad mass appeal as a world-class destination to live and work and we are seeing employers across industry sectors taking advantage of this talent influx to beef up teams at all career levels."

That is good news for the likes of fellow Greek George Ammari, who spent five years studying mechanical engineering in the northern Greece town of Kozani at the University of Western Macedonia.

The 24-year-old, who moved to the UAE as a baby but spent all his summers in the Mediterranean idyll, says it was a toss up between going to university in Jordan or Greece.

"The European degree is stronger I think...and I think every country when they hear Arabic degree or European degree they think differently....that's the positive thing, why I changed my mind about Europe and the universities are much stronger."

By that stage he had grown so fond of the country that he wanted to stay on -- despite the ailing economy.

"That's why I joined the Greek military for nine months, hoping I would find a job there, but actually it's very difficult nowadays, so I decided to come here for a while for experience or something."

Ammari finished his military service last July, and stayed on in Greece for an extra three months but he said he was undecided whether he would stay, but said he would if he got a good job, "but I'll look (first) to stay in Greece"

Masri indicates Ammari's chances of finding a good job here should be strong. His company's latest Jobs Index survey shows job seekers in the UAE who have the best chance of finding work have qualifications in Engineering (27 per cent), Business Management (22 per cent) or Commerce (20 per cent).

Those with experience will do best -- with most employers looking for people with managerial experience, or those who have worked between three and seven years.

Masri says another survey from last August shows 66 per cent of UAE employers are looking to hire within a year -- with 29 per cent "definitely hiring".

Despite this rosy outlook, Anna, 22, who did not want to give her last name, has had to compromise on her career.

The Greek native graduated last May after spending four years earning a French Literature degree from the University of Athens. She left her home town in July, and now lives in Abu Dhabi.

"I did start looking for a job in Athens, I couldn't find anything."

She is now working as an account executive for an advertising company -- but "I'd like to find something more that matched to my studies."

And while she got a job with relative ease, she thinks she is very far from the rule with her resident family handing out her CV to contacts.

"You can come and try your luck's true it came very, very easy and fast. I feel first of all I'm lucky and second of all it was an exception to me."

Despite the caution, she says she would still recommend her friends make the move -- with her sister expected to join her in the country soon.

"Leaving your country is hard, of course, but due to this really bad situation, especially for young people, I think 'What decision?', because staying in Greece doesn't make any sense."

Anna says she does not see things changing for "a minimum" of 10 years.

It was heart-wrenching leaving her home, she says, where her friends left behind work long hours for as little as Dh1900 a month.

"Most of my friends have moved, many to France and the UK. A few of my friends have a job and their salaries are really low, so they're not earning money, they're just working like slaves without earning".

But she worries about the mass exodus, and what it means for her country.

"I do support all the Greeks, especially the young people who are willing to have a better life. On the other hand, if everbody's leaving Greece, who is going to stay to improve the situation? It was a very hard decision: should I stay and see my country get better, or move to start a better life."

She recommends young people leave Greece for the mean time.

But home is where the heart is, she says.

"It's still very hard for me because I still cannot adjust to this routine, but I have to deal with it, there's no solution -- I cannot go back." -


Distributed by MCT Information Services

Source: (c) 2013 the Khaleej Times (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)

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