What inspired the creation of the Kurdistan Careers event?
We thought Kurdistan was missing a place where all of the employment market could come together. Events similar to this already exist at universities, but those are only focused on students. We are focusing on the whole Kurdistan Region. Kurdistan is a growing market, but it is hard to know where to start for new graduates. We thought that, in a two-day event, we could bring together what would take six months of searching to do. Besides that, we knew that an initiative for private sector training was missing here in Kurdistan. Thus, we wanted to raise awareness through annual events and smaller events connected to them, as well as through the media.

How many people attended last year’s event, what was on the agenda?
Over two days, we had around 2,000 people and 48 organizations covering the energy, finance, ICT, higher education, and logistics sectors. We put a lot of focus on capacity building. As I mentioned, training is a big issue right now. We do not have enough skilled people that are ready to go out into the market. I can say confidently that we have played a role in raising the importance of training and development. We had some roundtables focusing mostly on the energy sector after the event. We specifically had one section at the job fair last year called the “internship zone,” where we handed out leaflets on what internships are and why they are important. We wrote down a list of all the companies that wanted to receive interns and all the people that wanted to do internships.

What is the main benefit for jobseekers and companies that participate in the Kurdistan Careers event?
We have realized that networking is not as strong here as we might have thought. For example, we had our first event in Erbil at a government IT training academy with Microsoft-certified courses. Companies did not even know this training academy existed. We asked companies what the main reason they exhibited was in our 2013 feedback survey, and 30% said networking. The main benefit was that companies realized they were not alone facing issues finding good labor. For jobseekers, we provide the largest venue for finding employment opportunities, language and soft skills training, placements, and international internships. The KRG policymakers also benefit from the perspectives of both exhibitors and jobseekers.

As the economy grows, you need this type of event and other industry focused events to act as a barometer for where the economy is going. We want to be the place that brings together all the companies, expats, and new graduates that want to work in Kurdistan.

What is your target for the upcoming event?
When companies come here, they hear we have a big labor market. It is true that there is a lot of available labor, but the market is under-skilled. At most universities everything is theoretical. Mostly the private universities and University of Kurdistan-Hewler have been responding by putting in work placements, career planning, and outreach to companies to establish a bridge with students. We are trying to change the culture so students see the reality of things in the field. In our upcoming event we will hold three industry panels to bring those worlds together and point to common ground.

What are your future plans for Kurdistan Careers?
As the economy grows, you need this type of event and other industry focused events to act as a barometer for where the economy is going. We want to be the place that brings together all the companies, expats, and new graduates that want to work in Kurdistan. We want to be that go-to place once a year where you find your job, and we also want to expand into large-scale workshops focusing on professional development. In our upcoming event, we will have an awards ceremony– the Kurdistan Careers Key Awards. It sets a standard within the employment market, celebrates achievement in the local market, and is something to which people can aspire.

We know that most of your sponsors are giant energy and ICT companies. Do you also target small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)?
It is true that most of the sponsors are big companies in the energy and ICT sectors. The majority of exhibitors are SMEs, though. The SMEs do not realize what they are missing out on or the quality of the people they can get. They invest more in family contacts. Participating in something like the Kurdistan Careers event or reaching out to universities to see what qualified people they can get gives more variety to jobseekers and the employment market.

Are you planning to provide recruitment services?
We stay away from the recruitment process itself, but we give companies a whole list of contacts. Basically, we help on the transparency side of things, so people know which resources are available. Last year, we helped the KRG as they launched their job listing website, Kurdistan Works, at Kurdistan Careers. We helped them connect with all of the recruitment market.