The Middle East region is facing a massive employment challenge. With more than half of the region’s population under 25 years of age, a staggering 75 million jobs will have to be created between 2011 and 2020 just to keep pace with demographic growth. Essentially, the Middle East has less than 10 years to generate 40 percent more jobs than currently exist.
A new paradigm is needed to tackle this urgent unemployment problem. In this paradigm, potential jobs need to be identified, followed by specifically tailored training programs designed to deliver the required skills. Key stakeholders in this paradigm include government, business, and academia, which should intertwine their efforts to align skills with national economic needs, thereby maximizing the impact of the new approach.
Remarkably, it is large employers, rather than governments, that are becoming increasingly important stakeholders in the trio. One reason is because they best understand what the labor market needs, they have the levers to influence decisions within their organizations as well as within their suppliers, and thus have the ability to develop national talent who can eventually take on the required jobs.
In order to make a difference, large companies need to play a larger role in the labor market beyond hiring employees solely for their operations. This new role of large companies is two-fold. First, these companies should create demand for local talent by directing their procurement department to buy from local companies, who offer domestically produced goods as well as services (local content) and who employ a high number of nationals—this is especially important in the GCC. Second, large companies should play a role in preparing the local workforce for these newly found jobs by partnering with their suppliers, government, and training institutes to run programs that build specific capabilities of potential workers—nationals who will work for the large companies and their suppliers. Through these two steps, companies effectively spur job creation and match nationals to employment opportunities.
The role of the government in this new approach is to facilitate these partnerships by bringing stakeholders together. The government has the ability to link universities, employers, and others to catalyze dialogue. That means fostering collaboration between industries and education, particularly the public universities that dominate many Middle East education systems.
Such partnerships help the large company, its business sector, and the country. The large company will be able to reduce imports through its increased business with local suppliers that employ skilled staff who deliver quality products and services. The sector will gain through improved abilities among its workforces, which encourages innovation and entrepreneurialism. And, ultimately, the country will benefit from increased employment and skills development that make it more competitive.
The Middle East’s demographic youth wave poses enormous opportunities and challenges. The opportunity is that a new generation of young workers can fuel economic expansion. The challenge is to capture the full economic potential and promise of the region’s youth by providing meaningful jobs and careers. Although the challenges of unemployment are daunting and seem enduring, the Middle East can put its young people to work if large employers, governments, and education systems leverage existing initiatives and collaborate in a new paradigm.