Despite a deep desire by Lebanese entrepreneurs to hire local and base their startups at home soil, lagging skills within the labor force has driven many abroad.
“We have smart people but we don’t have trained people,” said Anghami cofounder and CTO Elie Habib at the Lebanese International Finance Executives (LIFE) and Endeavour Lebanon annual Global Business Summit last week. “Students are being trained for jobs of 10 years ago.”
The challenge of finding talent in a country that prides itself on a high quality and trilingual education system comes as a surprise.
In one panel, Lebanese entrepreneur Hind Hobeika discussed having two offices for her sports tech wearable Instabeat - one in San Francisco and one in Beirut. When looking for people specialized in product design in Lebanon, she hit a wall and was forced to hire a team in California instead.
Hobeika also noted the lack of professionalism among Lebanese job seekers, urging universities to aid in training students on the etiquette around applying for jobs and how to be more efficient in the workforce.
For Delphine Edde, cofounder and publishing director at Diwanee, bringing on Lebanese talent meant a lot of training, a heavy cost to accrue as a startup.
“We couldn’t find local talent that we wanted. Developers were much better in Eastern Europe,” she said on a panel about scaling. “Today, in Lebanon there are 100 people but we put in a lot of effort in training.”
The concern hasn’t fallen on deaf ears.
The American University of Beirut’s Faculty of Engineering and Architecture (FEA) announced last month that it was launching a new innovation and entrepreneurship track to its curricula.
The program aims to inspire and support students seeking to build their own startup companies by the time they graduate. The program, proposed by FEA associate dean Ayman Kayssi will also place students as interns among Beirut Digital District startups to enhance their knowledge on future technologies and foster an entrepreneurial mindset.
This year also saw the launch of SE (Software Engineering) Factory, a three-month intensive coding bootcamp in Lebanon that helps people who already had a foundation in computer science to become more skilled and more hirable software engineers.
The country’s lagging talent, however, is not just about education. Its also about a crippling infrastructure and, as with most things in MENA, politics.
In a town hall discussion with the newly re-elected Prime Minister Saad Hariri, no word was uttered more than ‘internet’.
Hariri was quick to address what he said was an utmost priority by promising frustrated audience members that the internet will be 20 times faster in a matter of months.
“If that doesn’t happen, you can call me,” said Hariri.
The prime minister also addressed the political deadlock that has held hostage much of the country’s businesses and international investment. Without a president or government, and with a war next door, few investors would want to tap into Lebanon or its talent.
“We are at a stage now, where the public and private sectors must come together and unify their efforts to contribute towards economic prosperity in Lebanon. We are very keen to support the local entrepreneurial community as their impact on the economy has been evident in recent years, stimulating job creation and putting Lebanon on the global map, via exceptional projects,” he said.
Tarek Sadi, managing director of Endeavor Lebanon, also noted the importance of bringing in the Lebanese diaspora to the growth of the local ecosystem.
“I think the issue we have is that money outside does not invest in Lebanese startups not because of a lack of confidence in the startups, but a lack of confidence as a country,” said Sadi.
“We need to have a more stable region,” he said.
Feature image via Endeavor Lebanon