Gaining actual, meaningful work experience as a teenager in Doha is difficult. Whereas my teenager immediately landed a job stocking shelves at a local supermarket in The Netherlands on his 14th birthday, part-time paid work for teens is virtually non-existent in Qatar. That may not stop teens from trying to earn a few extra riyals, but the biggest disadvantage to not having more work experience options for teens in Doha is the difference it makes on their future university or job applications.
Obviously, good grades are important when it comes to applying to university, but as any college counsellor will tell you, experience and involvement in extracurricular activities, volunteering and community service are just as important. According to a dosomething.org survey conducted last year among top US universities and colleges, students who have developed “good citizenship” skills through service activities make amazing university applicants, and later on, great job applicants. “However,” says Lucy Hogg, college counsellor at the International School of London Qatar (ISLQ), “make sure the volunteer experience is more long-term than a one-off. Universities are looking for consistency and commitment, not really a one-day event.”
A study by the University of British Colombia in Canada shows that teenagers who work summer or evening jobs gain a competitive advantage later in life. Developing early knowledge of the working world and how to manage in it, they are more likely to find good employment and earn more money in the future. The more hours that 15-year- olds work, particularly during the school term when they must manage their time, the better their career prospects.
In Qatar, teens can apply for a full-time job when they are 18 years old. Teenagers can work from as young as 15, but under strict conditions: young workers need approval from both their father or guardian and the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs. Furthermore, they are not allowed to work for more than six hours a day and 36 hours a week.
So what can Doha teenagers do to acquire work experience?
Pilar Fernandez, GCCA Coordinator at ISLQ, recommends to teens, “If you have a clear idea of what you would like to study, find an adult professional in that field and ask him or her if you can do an internship, for example for one afternoon per week or during a holiday.”
Once your teen starts asking and looking around, there are quite a few options to gain experience. Most of it is unpaid volunteer work, but there are a few paid options—although these may not necessarily build one’s CV.
Starting a business
Fatma* (17) always had a passion for cooking and baking and started her own sushi delivery business a year ago. “I am very particular when it comes to sushi and I had not found the perfect sushi yet in Qatar.” To get approval from her parents, she first made a business plan.“I planned where I would work on the orders, where I would get my products from, how I would deliver the orders, but also, how I would keep up with my school work.”
Having her own business makes Fatma feel like a responsible adult, but it is also very time consuming. “It is hard to keep up with the orders, do my homework and answer the customers timely. I am in the IB diploma programme now so it is very challenging, and it is not always possible to respond to a customer right away.” Fatma had not expected her business to grow so much in such a short time. “It gave me a lot of confidence, taught me a lot and it made me see myself as a bright and creative person. My dream is to make the business bigger and to open my own restaurant. I want to study in the UK and after that I would like to open restaurants all over the world. I am very happy and proud of myself!” Interested in trying Fatma’s sushi? Find her on Instagram, @sushinaa_qtr.
Tutoring a younger student is a good way of showing an interest and competence in a subject. E4s.co.uk offers an online option; tutoring can be done from home over the internet using email, Skype and so on. There’s plenty of demand for this kind of work, and its flexibility means that it’s easy to fit it in around schoolwork. Even better, it’s going to look excellent on a university application because it demonstrates an interest in a particular subject as well as the communication skills and clarity of thinking to be able to teach it to someone else. And it pays, so it’s a good idea all around.
Talent agencies are always looking for new faces. They need hosts and hostesses for events, ushers, extras for movies and models for advertisements.
It might not always be easy to combine with schoolwork, and again, does not necessarily improve your teen’s CV, but it is a good way to make some extra money and have a little fun. Trinity Talent Qatar, Century Talents Qatar and The Talent Factory are a few agencies in the region.
Babysitting does not necessarily count towards meaningful work experience nor will it make your teen’s university application stand out, but it is a good way for them to make some extra money. They can put up an advertisement in your clubhouse, advertise on your compound Facebook page or you can help them by spreading the word to your friends.
General volunteering opportunities
If your teen wants to focus on doing something meaningful that will look good on their university or job application, they should consider volunteer work: it is a great way to give back to the community, it is rewarding (though not financially), they will learn a lot and gain some professional experience. There are many different organisations looking for volunteers, so there is something for everyone.
Tamm is an initiative co-founded by Silatech, Social Development Center, Reach Out to Asia and Qatar Center for Voluntary Activities. It is designed to connect volunteers with those who need them.Through Tamm’s website, young people can search for volunteer opportunities posted by different organisations and institutions throughout Qatar. Teens should also join the Qatar Volunteers Facebook group for the latest on volunteer work.
There are a number of animal charity rescue groups based in Doha dedicated to helping abandoned, injured, homeless and orphaned animals. In general, they rely on volunteers, donations and fundraiser events as they are not governmentally funded. If your teen loves animals, this is a great way to offer meaningful volunteer work and to really make a difference. Have them check out Cat Assistance Team, PAWS Rescue Qatar, Second Chance Rescue Qatar and Qatar Animal Welfare Society.
Shezin* (17) was afraid of dogs when she went on a school-organised community service trip to an animal shelter to walk dogs. “Ironically, I enjoyed it much more than I had expected,” she says. “And facing my fear made me realise my capabilities. I gained a lot of confidence from visiting the shelter, and I wanted to give something back.” Shezin learned that the dogs spend most of their time in a cage and can only go for a walk if there is a volunteer available to walk them. “That’s when I took charge and started organising regular after-school trips to the shelter. Amazingly, on the second trip I organised, 80 people signed up! This success really motivated me and kept me interested in the activity. I am still organising the trip every Sunday after school.”
If your teens is interested in veterinary science, they can ask a local veterinary hospital if they can volunteer. Alternatively, Al Shaqab Equestrian Centre has a volunteer programme that includes event assistance, horse anatomy workshops and summer courses.
If the environment is important to your teen, there are beach-cleaning days, which are regularly organised by private and governmental organisations. Join the Facebook page of the Doha Beach Clean Project, or keep an eye out for the beach clean-ups organised by the Ministry of Municipality and Urban Planning, which is responsible for protecting Qatar’s natural habitat and ensuring the cleanliness of public areas.
Doha is fast becoming the sporting capital of the GCC. The Qatar Olympic Committee arranges more than 80 events per year, many of which need volunteers. Check out their website for an overview of all sporting events that are being organised, the biggest one this year being the UCI Road World Championships (cycling) in October. This is a great international event to volunteer for. Volunteers are needed for check-in, crowd control, lost and found and venue support.
If your teen prefers a more personal approach, loves sports and likes to work with kids, why not ask around at local sports clubs to see if they need volunteers?
Evolution Sports Qatar has a volunteer programme, generally open to those who would like to gain experience across a variety of sports or those who are looking for a placement in gaining community service hours. Evo Sports hired one of its former volunteers this year as a full-time football coach, while he decides on whether or not he wants to attend university. As all activities are after school, they are relatively easy to fit into a teen’s schedule.
In order for teenagers to gain meaningful work experience they need to find their passion first, then find an activity to match. They must show commitment. It does not matter whether the work is paid or not; the effort and time they put in now will be rewarding in many ways in the future.
*Last names omitted to protect privacy.
TESSA KERKVLIET HAS LIVED IN QATAR FOR ALMOST THREE YEARS AFTER HAVING MOVED TO DOHA FROM THE NETHERLANDS WITH HER HUSBAND AND THREE SONS. SHE IS AN ENGLISH/DUTCH TRANSLATOR AND PREVIOUSLY WORKED AS A MEDICAL LIBRARIAN IN A HOSPITAL WITH AN EMPHASIS ON TEACHING RESEARCH SKILLS TO MEDICAL STUDENTS.