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Career Development In The Middle East

Career Development In The Middle East by Geraldine Healy
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Career development has been the focus of complex theoretical and empirical studies in a wide range of occupations and contexts. Such studies have an enduring relevance to our understanding of work, employment and well-being. Yet, what is clear is that the majority of the dominant theoretical and empirical work in the field is located in ‘‘the West’’ and shaped by North American and Western European influences. This is not to suggest that such studies do not have wider relevance but that this dominance of approach may lead to a partial understanding in a global economy.

This special issue on career development in the Middle East seeks to provide some redress by offering a systematic and empirically rigorous set of studies drawn from some countries in this neglected area. The Middle East is the region which normally includes Turkey, Israel, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Oman, Egypt, Cyprus, Kuwait, Yemen, Jordan, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan. The region is of contemporary political relevance yet this rarely transmits to our understanding of work and careers. It is a region characterised by vast wealth and deep poverty, of histories of stability and instability, of high levels of educational attainment coexisting with high levels of illiteracy, and of countries which rely on migratory labour and others which regret the emigration of human capital. While ‘‘Middle East’’ may be a geographically significant term, from a career perspective, any analysis must recognise the heterogeneity of the countries involved, the importance of political decision making, the educational infrastructure and the dominant cultural values. Our aim in this special issue is to explore a number of studies from countries in the region and thereby provide examples that illuminate the global complexity of career development. In particular, the papers explore the complex interplay of careers with international politics, the state policies, legal, social, cultural and economic dynamics in the region as well as gender, ethnicity, migration structures and issues. They further demonstrate the interdependence on global labour markets and the transmission of knowledge and skill.

The issue begins by exploring the macro context of the career base of highly-skilled workers, using the example of Turkey. In this paper, by Tansel and Gu¨ ngo¨r, on the ‘‘‘Brain drain’ from Turkey’’, it is shown how graduate careers are facilitated by ‘‘Western’’ education, particularly in the USA or the UK. For some, the support of families leads to the privatisation of the development of human capital over which the state has little control. Such post-graduate education and training provides the springboard for careers abroad. For others, they may benefit from state support to study abroad. This support is contingent on working in Turkey after graduation. Many students are choosing to remain abroad and contribute to Western economies, rather than return home. Interestingly, part of the reason lies with their perception that academic and scientific careers are not sufficiently recognised in Turkey. This view was intensified with the effects of the economic crisis in early 2001. This loss of human capital through student non-return has a serious effect on the Turkish education system and is leading to a contraction of state funding for students studying abroad. This article complements the paper on Saudisation, as both papers refer to the flow of labour in and out of the region.

The paper on ‘‘Saudisation and employment in Saudi Arabia’’, by Mahdi and Barrientos, also provides a macro approach to understanding the nature of career development, this time in Saudi Arabia in the context of a Saudisation policy. Saudisation has been a process by which local employees are protected against global labour market forces. However, as this was not coupled with careful career development programmes for the local workforce, the legal support for Saudisation has resulted in litigation avoiding behaviour rather than full and purposeful utilisation of the local workforce. The central control of labour does not allow for the agency of individual workers. The importance of the public sector as a preferred career location, is central to the limitations of Saudisation. The shortage of Saudi labour is exacerbated by the very few Saudi women who are employed (of the local workforce, 3 per cent as opposed to some 40 per cent of immigrant labour). Thus, career routes are curtailed for immigrant labour by legislative control and for Saudi women by the social controls on their working lives and for Saudi men by their preference for a humanities education and public sector employment.

Sector is also important in the third paper. In this case, we turn to a study of ‘‘Professional women in computing programming occupations in Turkey’’, by Ecevit, Gu¨ ndu¨ z-Hos?go¨r and Tokluog?lu. This paper is interesting, as it centres on a gendered analysis of a highly-skilled and educated group of workers. The paper is set in Turkey, where the proportion of professional women is relatively high from a global perspective. Nevertheless, despite a high proportion of urban, well-educated women in this sector, the social norms still complicate their work-life balance, leading to complex decision making about marriage. The paper also provides examples of how women in the IT sector develop practical strategies to cope with the conflicting demands of their domestic and work roles. Turning to the organisational impact on careers, the paper on ‘‘Organisational career management in Israel’’, by Tzabbar, Vardi and Baruch, identifies a paternalistic model of career management in Israel, where organisational needs supersede individual needs in informing organisational approaches to career management. The importance of particularistic criteria and evaluation programmes are identified as important for promotion decisions, whereas for managing promotions, human resource managers rely on internal development programmes. Nevertheless, the use of external labour markets was found to be important as a means of identifying managerial talent. The paper confirms that the human resource management practices transform subject to variations in the national and cultural circumstances and supports theoretical arguments that organisations abandon old practices for employee mobility and adopt alternative promotion tracks. This seems to be all the more the case in the context of recession and the growth of employment agencies offering cheaper employment solutions. Another aspect of organisational career development is the importance of counselling. The study, which informs the paper by Malach-Pines, on ‘‘Occupational burnout: a cross-cultural Israeli Jewish-Arab perspective and its implications for career counselling’’, concludes that Arabs experience higher levels of occupational burnout than Jews, in Israel. Furthermore, Jews, in Israel, tend to use professional career counselling services more frequently than Arabs, who tend to draw on their reference groups for such counselling. Based on these two significant findings the paper proposes a culture sensitive approach to management of career counselling services. Exemplifying one of the significant intranational diversities, the paper highlights the relevance and importance of recognising the role of ethnic and cultural backgrounds on career and employment choices and experiences in the region. Size of firm is always an important variable in organisational career development strategies and the opportunities open to employees to develop their careers and it is this issue that the next paper addresses. Tanova’s paper explores the differences between staffing practices in small and large organisations in north Cyprus. While the patterns of recruitment and selection between small and large enterprises have much in common with Western European and US societies (large firms rely on formal methods and small firms on informal methods), the reason for the differences may have different foundations in north Cyprus. The collectivist nature of Turkish Cypriot society is shown to be important in the nature of informal practices dominant in recruitment and selection methods. The proportion of small firms in north Cyprus is high and it is likely to increase with the reduction of the public sector. This may lead to greater informality and the shifting focus of graduate careers. The responsibility for family rests with women who have little protection from statutory legislation. The author points out that the increasing reliance on informal networks may reinforce race, gender or disability imbalances in the workforce. This editorial can only give a flavour of the complexity of the papers involved in this special issue.

However, the collection poses the question of how such cross-cultural studies enhance our understanding of careers. The papers have adopted different methods and have taken macro, meso and micro approaches. Throughout, it is clear that macro structures are particularly significant in tracing the way that individual careers develop. Indeed, we would argue that it is the analysis of the interrelationship between structural constraints and opportunities with the self that allows us to understand the nature of careers in different countries. In these papers, the structural context of career development through human capital investment (Turkey) and the reduction of reliance on migratory labour (through Saudisation) demonstrates how national policies may be clear but that it is the local interpretation that will decide how the policy operates in practice. Other papers focus on human resource strategies (Israel) or demand for human resource functions such as counselling (Israel/Palestine). Clear cultural differences emerge in these papers which demonstrates the link between human resource career policies and collectivist communities.

Geraldine Healy and Mustafa O¨ zbilgin

Previously published in: Industrial Robot: An International Journal, Volume 30, Number 3, 2003

Emerald Group Publishing Limited; January 2003
77 pages; ISBN 9781845444587
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Title: Career Development In The Middle East
Author: Geraldine Healy; Mustafa Özbilgin
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