In the first months of 2020, the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic has created significant challenges for governments worldwide. And while the response to the pandemic has been multifaceted, Healthcare and Education were among the top priorities of governments' responses.
Lebanon, like most of the Arab countries, faces significant socio-economic challenges such as a high unemployment rate, particularly among youth, leading many young people to feel frustrated and disengaged. The COVID-19 crisis is expected to exacerbate economic challenges in countries affected by the pandemic, leading to more unemployment among the youth.
Against this backdrop, and in the context of the Youth Employment in the Mediterranean Project (YEM), UNESCO Beirut organized on 12 May 2020 a national webinar on “The Skills in the Water Sector in Lebanon: Overview of the needs after COVID – 19”. The webinar, which was attended by 60 participants representing the public and private sector in Lebanon, as well as youth organizations, aimed at exploring the value chain of the Water sector in Lebanon, the occupations, jobs and skills needed in this sector, as well as at allowing the youth to share their concerns.
The webinar was attended by high-level personalities, including Ms Maria El Hassrouni, Programme Manager for TVET and Local Development at the Delegation of the European Union to Lebanon; Mr Rizk Rizk, Director General of the Bekaa Water Establishment; Dr Mohammad Abou Haidar, Advisor for the Director General of TVET at the Ministry of Education and Higher Education.
The event started with the welcome remarks by Mr Oussama Ghneim, Team leader of YEM project, who highlighted the three components of the project, and shed light on the importance of anticipating skills in the Curriculum development in TVET. Then, Mr Salim Shehadeh, UNESCO Beirut’s Programme Specialist for TVET, made a speech in which he highlighted that “employment and employability, especially for young people, is a common priority for the YEM countries”. He explained that technological change, globalization and demographic changes have an impact on labour markets and education and training systems, and that there is broad consensus on the importance of anticipating labour market needs in order to match the skills taught in the education system with the skills needed in the labour market. Mr Shehadeh said that after COVID-19, an opportunity presents itself to TVET providers in the Water sector to develop strategies, establish partnerships with the private sector, review the curricula, train the teachers, coach and monitor the implementation of different activities and programs, hence the relevance of the webinar organized by UNESCO.
In her turn, Ms El Hassrouni assured that the European Union supports TVET in Lebanon through a variety of initiatives and programmes, including the YEM Project. She highlighted that the Delegation of the European Union to Lebanon is committed to supporting the Water sector in Lebanon and mentioned that the European Union spent 100 million EUR to this end. The European Union is planning to support the operations of the water establishments with a specific response package of approximately EUR 10 million in the future to ensure that service levels will be guaranteed during Covid-19 as the Water sector is key for reducing the transmission of the virus.
Then, Dr Abou Haidar praised UNESCO for organizing this timely webinar, given that the water sector can provide solutions to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. Abou Haidar stressed on the need for a better understanding of the occupations and skills needed in the water sector, and spoke of the commitment of the Directorate General for TVET to work with all public and private stakeholders to develop and strengthen the TVET sector in Lebanon.
This was followed by a series of presentations. Mr Walid El Baba, Managing Director at WEBCO SARL, presented an overview of the value chain and occupations in the water sector in Lebanon. Mr El Baba highlighted that SDG6 stipulates that “safe and affordable drinking water for all by 2030 requires to invest in adequate infrastructure, provide sanitation facilities and encourage hygiene”. Stating that “It is time to put more efforts and investment in our human resources mainly in skilled technicians for a clean water system”, he said that the following skills are needed in the Water sector: “Plumbers, welders for steel and plastic pipes, fitters for special jointing like grooved for big pipes diameters, electricians (for motors, contactors, relays etc..), electronic technicians for control, automation, instrumentation and chemical technicians for water analysis, chemical dosing products etc..”.
Then Mr Rizk, Director General of the Bekaa Water Establishment, presented an overview of the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the water sector. He explained that “the COVID-19 crisis led to a change in work modalities in the water sector: when we adopted remote working, we discovered the need for new skills and specializations”. Mr Rizk mentioned that the sector needs specialists who master the following tools and technologies: Water Balance, the GIS system, SWMS and SCADA systems. He also stated that specialists are needed to develop and manage the Call Center of the Bekaa Water Establishment, and the e-payment modalities.
Mr Wadih Yared, Materials Scientist and Technical Consultant at API, spoke of the challenges in terms of skills needed from the point of view of the private sector. After a brief introduction of API’s profile and vision for the future, Mr Yared presented Lebanese manufacturing capabilities in the area of Water and highlighted potential employment opportunities. He stressed on the importance of sound scientific knowledge in the field of plastics processing and on the role and importance of operators, engineers and installers. Mr Yared insisted on the need for a well-trained and educated workforce, while stressing the importance of self-awareness and respect for the world around us as key factors for both success and survival in this delicate environment we live in.
Mr Georges Honein, Power & Control Manager at Phoenix Machinery, gave an overview of the Water Management System and the occupations and skills needed. He explained that: “ Water supply represents a vital problem for people, and this imposes the need to know the information regarding consumptions, resources and production. This implies a continuous supervision of the water supply process in order to allow any problem that could appear to be solved, and in the same time, to maintain normal functioning parameters”. Mr Honein added: “Proper solutions imply automation and monitoring architectures which contain: a supervision and control system for the real time installation, programmable logic controllers with Wireless feature communication and dedicated field devices as level, pressure and water quality sensors, power meter, drives and safety equipment. The informatics systems present the possibility of analyzing, processing, storing and retrieving the data, leading to an optimum functioning and reducing the operation costs. In this way, the automated system monitor and control the technological parameters in the water distribution stations, which will allow the optimum functioning of the pumping system, safety and endurance growth in the equipment and efficient energy usage”.
Mr Youssef Ghantous, Secretary General of LSES NGO, presented the work of a youth NGO. Mr Ghantous said: “Water and energy are related in many aspects. Both are resources that are dwindling with the unplanned behavior of the humans. Energy is important for water availability and water can be the source of energy. On the other hand, if well planned they can be both a source of sustainable development and can provide employment opportunities for the youth if the proper capacity building is provided for them”. He added that: “LSES focuses on advocating the use of Renewable Energy and Sustainability in Lebanon. It has been involved in many projects that combine sustainability with job creation in the energy and water sectors such as solar pumping and solar water heating.” Mr Ghantous stated that “there are still many opportunities to develop youth knowledge in these areas, and cooperation and coordination are required among all local and international stakeholders to achieve this objective”.
Lastly, Mrs Samar Boulos, General Manager at Safadi Foundation, gave an overview of the youth’s understanding of the water sector in Lebanon based on an online rapid assessment conducted by Safadi Foundation and aimed at studying the skills needed in this sector and looking at the point of view of youth regarding the water sector projects and job opportunities in Lebanon. Mrs Boulos presented the findings of this assessment as follows: “In general the youth have limited understanding and knowledge of the sector since most of them assumed that the Lebanese government is the one responsible of the sector exclusively and that despite the abundance of water residents are still paying to get water services. 65% of youth are aware of some implemented projects in Lebanon under the water sector, while 76% of youth considered that the water sector is open to creating job opportunities, however, their perception of needed skills in this sector revealed a limited knowledge of the sector, whilst 70% of youth expressed their interest in working in the water sector.” Mrs Boulos said that the Safadi Foundation as a highly experienced TVET provider, recommends the following: “Promoting Green TVET and training youth on new and emerging operating technologies; developing a demand-driven curriculum; conducting awareness-raising activities regarding the water industry; building networking including among students, trainers, and employers; and developing a learning environment by providing new technologies”.
The presentations were followed by an interactive and lively discussion between participants who shared their concerns and spoke of the challenges the water sector faces.
 The YEM Project is a 36-month regional project funded by the European Union and implemented by UNESCO over the period of 2018-2020, with an overall objective to support national authorities, the private sector, TVET providers and youth organizations in the South Mediterranean region in understanding and anticipating labour market changes with a view to inform the design, implementation and evaluation of relevant TVET policies, strategies and programmes, aimed at increasing youth employment and entrepreneurship.