In economic terms, the Middle East is experiencing skills shortages and a reliance on a few dominant industries in the private sector, alongside an arguable lack of investment in future growth sectors. Added to this is the untapped potential of female workers, the world’s most youthful population, high youth unemployment, and a need to support local nationals into the workplace. All these challenges are set against the backdrop of ongoing change as technology, globalisation and skills mobility transform the workplace.
Developing visionary plans and becoming part of the global conversation around addressing skills gaps will be key to growth. There is extensive research emphasising how gaps in both hard and soft skills threaten labour markets and inhibit productivity, and the situation is getting worse.
The precise skills in demand differ from country to country, but the underlying causes are the same: decades of underinvestment in skills and training, driven by a near-worldwide focus on schools and higher education, a disconnect between education and employment, and a complacency about preparing for tomorrow.
The good news is that investment in the education sector across the Middle East is increasing, and participation is on the rise – including among women. But there is always more that can be done. So how can you adapt and thrive in the modern economy?
Get involved in developing a high-quality technical education officer
Ensuring education and training align to your needs and plans is still essential. In EY’s 2014 report into how the GCC can close the skills gap, only 29% of businesses felt the current education system prepares students with the technical skills needed for work. Some 19% felt it prepares students with the right attitude and behaviour, and just 16% said that the curricula aligns to the needs of the private sector.
You know the skills your business needs and have a key role to play in shaping skills development initiatives. Working with education providers, you can develop a high-quality technical education offer. We’ve seen this happening across the US, Europe and Asia.
Adopt a global outlook
Globalisation is a reality. We live a world where people are interconnected and on the move. Whereas once, business conditions varied from place to place, today many of us trade globally and have an international workforce. According to the UN, 3.3% of the world’s population does not live in the country in which they were born, and PwC predicts global mobility will increase by 50% by 2020.
Even if your outlook is primarily domestic, it’s important to look to the global market. See how you interact with it, how it impacts on your growth, and how you may need to adapt your business practices.
Support multiple generations in the workplace
Europe is currently navigating the impact of an ageing workforce, but in the Middle East the reverse is true; numbers of young people currently far outweigh available jobs.
It’s worth considering how you can provide opportunities for young people to get a foot on the ladder, whether that’s through opening up employment or training opportunities or, as mentioned previously, working with education providers to develop an effective skills system. However you could also benefit from preparing for a workplace that, as life expectancy rises, has four generations working together. It won’t happen tomorrow, but it will one day, so think about how can you continually develop employees, and how you can create an environment that supports and promotes the insights and experiences different age groups can bring
Be prepared for automation
Technological advancements could have a significant impact on your approach to operations and recruitment. Automation is fundamentally changing the nature of work – potentially making some jobs redundant, but equally changing the sort of skills that will be in demand. According to the World Economic Forum, five million jobs will be lost before 2020, but just 2.1 million new jobs will be created, mostly in highly-skilled or technical areas.
While the ability to digest data or operate complex technology will become increasingly important – as will the need for employees with the right level of skills – abilities that a machine simply does not possess, such as leadership and management, will be in demand. You cannot expect people to possess these skills innately, so think about your skills development strategies and support employees at every stage of their career. It isn’t just about helping people gain the skills they need to get into a job, but developing on the job too.
Change to continue
As the world of work changes, think about your overall business objectives, and what could stand in the way of achieving them – whether that’s skills gaps or global trends. It’s risky to assume conditions in your sector or region will stay the same, or that your employees are prepared for what the future holds. The only given is that change will continue, so being able to adapt is essential.