First published on CNN International on March 10, 2016.
By Jon Jensen
DUBAI – When Rameez Tariq began studying mechanical engineering four years ago, he thought getting a job after graduation would be relatively easy in a city such as Dubai.
That was when global oil prices were above $100 per barrel. Now, with oil worth less than $40, the Pakistani expatriate is still out of work — six months after getting his degree.
“Everywhere I apply, it’s rejection. The word ‘regret’ or ‘we regret to inform you,’ this is something that really hurts now,” said Tariq. “Everywhere I apply, it’s the same story.”
Tariq was one of hundreds of recent university graduates searching for jobs at a recent career fair in Dubai.
Most of the job seekers waited in long lines, resumes in hand, desperate to make connections with employers that might lead to work.
“It’s very confusing right now,” said Iranian-Indian expatriate Abdul Majid. “They tell you that you need experience, but how can you get experience when you’re a fresh graduate?”
Career fairs in the United Arab Emirates are increasingly common — as are concerns among recent graduates that cheap oil means the days of secure jobs with big salaries are over.
Mohammad Taha, another job seeker, told CNN he hasn’t worked in a year since graduation.
“Panic a lot,” said Taha, describing his current mental state. “Panic and depressed, to be honest.”
Jaya Bhatia, a recruiter who has worked in Dubai for nearly 20 years, says there’s no reason to panic just yet.
The labor market in the oil-rich UAE grew by nearly 6% last year, according to official data.
“There are no lack of rightful opportunities if you are smart enough as a job hunter to target the right position and get aligned to the job market, you’re always able to find a good opportunity,” said Bhatia, managing director of JobHunt HR & Management Consultancy.
Still, analysts are warning of tougher times ahead for workers in the oil and gas sector. Several companies have laid off staff in the Gulf since the slump.
That’s part of a bigger global trend. More than 250,000 employees in the oil and gas sector worldwide have lost their jobs as a result of the downturn, according to Graves & Co., a Houston-based industry analyst.
One young petroleum engineer at the job fair told CNN he had sent out hundreds of resumes and job applications since being laid off five months ago. He said he hasn’t received a single response.
Mechanical engineer Tariq says the lack of feedback frustrates him the most.
The 24-year-old grew up in Dubai. He never imagined he’d struggle to make ends meet in his own city.
“We’re hoping oil prices will recover and we’ll find ourselves good, better jobs for which we studied so hard,” said Tariq. “But right now, this is how it is. We’ve got to survive.”