How a country sans oil reserves can still rake in petrodollars
Amman, Jordan — Jordan hasn't enjoyed the good fortune of Saudi Arabia or Kuwait in discovering and exploiting large reserves of oil - in fact Jordan has no oil at all.
But the Hashemite Kingdom, thanks to the foresight and planning of of a few government leaders and the resourcefulness of its population, is developing a basic ''industry'' of its own that will help ensure that Jordan is not bypassed on the road to development in the Middle East.
''The basic industry of Jordan is educating and training manpower and exporting it to the Gulf countries,'' says Dr. M. Nuri Shafiq, secretary-general of Jordan's Council of Higher Education.
At present Jordan's ''export'' of labor totals about 310,000 Jordanian managers, technicians, and workers who are using their expertise to help run the economies of neighboring Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the other Gulf states which have the petrodollars to build expensive industrial projects but which don't yet have the educated local manpower to run them.
This export of labor provides Jordan with remittances flowing in at a rate of more than $1.3 billion a year. In the past decade these remittances have led to , among other things, a construction boom in Amman, greater investment in the local stock market, and an increase in investment generally.
Analysts in Amman say that despite the current sluggish oil market and talk of budget deficits in the Gulf states, neither the number of workers nor the amount of their remittances has so far been greatly affected.
The expectation is that the first workers to be adversely affected will be construction workers and unskilled laborers, who come primarily from non-Arab Asian countries. Jordanians generally are employed in skilled and white-collar professions and as such are said to enjoy a greater degree of job security during the current tighter economic times in the Gulf.
In Jordan, the Jordanian labor force of 450,000 has managed to cope with an outflow of 4,000 to 6,000 workers a year to the Gulf states. It has done this in part by importing an estimated 120,000 semiskilled and unskilled workers, primarily from Egypt and Asia.
This has been necessary because about 37 percent of the Jordanian population is still in school (one of the highest rates in the world) and not yet available to work.
In addition, Jordan's population is particularly young, with more than 60 percent of Jordanians 24 years old or younger.
Though some structural unemployment exists in Jordan (government estimates place it at 1.4 percent), Jordan's economy is said to be at full employment.
This claim, however, is deceiving. Experts point out that while jobs exist, the Jordanian labor force is being supplied with an excess of doctors and engineers and an insufficient number of technicians, craftsmen, and laborers.
''We need what is called the human infrastructure,'' says Dr. Shafiq of the Council of Higher Education.
To help stem the inequity, the Jordanian government has been expanding and developing vocational training and attempting to lure high school students into careers as technicians and skilled workers.
The idea is to satisfy both the Jordanian need for technicians and the growing demand for skilled labor in the Gulf. But in a country where white-collar professions are the admired careers and established role models, the government faces a problem.
''We had an objective in the 1975-80 development plan to have 30 percent of our high school students go into vocational education but in fact we only got 15 to 17 percent,'' says Dr. Shafiq.
''We are still struggling to expand,'' he adds.
This year 26,000 students are studying in 46 public and private vocational schools in Jordan.
This compares with 22,000 students enrolled in Jordan's three universities and an estimated 60,000 to 90,000 Jordanian students studying in colleges and universities abroad. An estimated 7,000 Jordanians are now studying in the US.