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Young, out of work, and unemployable

Young, out of work, and unemployable

The Middle East has a large pool of young people able to fill gaps in the workforce. So where are they?

April 14, 2010 4:47 by

The global skills gap was among the raft of issues tabled at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, where the W.E.F.’s Global Agenda Council on the skills gap identified talent shortages as a considerable threat to the global economy.

Closer to home, in the Middle East low employment levels and a lack of locally driven economic growth has plagued the region for many years.

One of the co-chairs of the above-mentioned W.E.F. Global Agenda Council is David Arkless, president of corporate and government affairs, Manpower Inc. Arkless recently spoke about the Middle East’s experience of labor shortages and unemployment – particularly among young people – at an INSEAD leadership forum in Abu Dhabi. Organized by the international graduate business school, which
recently opened its first Middle East campus in the U.A.E. capital, the forum pulled together business leaders from the region.

“I don’t think the issue or the potential ongoing influence of this on young people, or the economy, is being talked about enough,” said Arkless.

“It’s discussed in the inner circles of governments of the region, but not publicly, and I believe it is a serious issue. After all, this is why the Saudi Arabian government is allocating so much money to education and training.”

Arkless cited unemployment figures of 35 percent in Egypt and around 30 percent across Bahrain and Saudi Arabia as proof that more needs to be done to encourage youth into the workforce and to boost locally based enterprise. He believes that robust research is a crucial early step in addressing these issues.

“It always strikes me that most labor and economic policy is developed on the basis of historical trends – everybody looks backwards. But what you need to do is forecast the future needs, looking across different sectors and geographical regions, to establish exactly what talent is needed and how to incentivize people,” said Arkless.

“This is currently not done comprehensively anywhere in the Arab world, which generally has very poorly crafted plans for human resources provisioning.” Arkless explains that he has worked with the U.A.E. Labor Ministry in identifying some of the labor resources it will need to meet economic growth targets. However, he believes that the scale of work involved in conducting further, more detailed research across the Middle East is creating reluctance.

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  1. TB on April 14, 2010 5:13 pm

    Perhaps getting rid of the free DEWA, property, etc, might help? There’s not a lot of incentive to bother going into the workforce when you’re supported by subsidies and freebies from the government.

    Removing or lowering the quota system for hiring Emiratis would probably help too. Talk to many UAE-based business owners and you’ll hear plenty of stories about Emirati employees who do little more than turn up, collect their cheques and go home again. Some Emiratis are wonderful and capable workers, and they are like gold dust. Make getting a job harder and more competitive and you’ll force modern kids to up their game.

  2. Miss Anne Thropic on April 21, 2010 1:38 pm

    Lowering government salaries and amending government job working hours so they are in line with private sector salaries, rather than throwing money at private companies to hire Emiratis, would help too.

    At the moment, there is no real incentive for Emiratis to work longer hours for less money in the private sector.

    I know of an Emirati graduate who expects Dh30,000 a month for her first job straight from college with no experience. I graduated from college with five years work experience already behind me and took a job where the salary was the equivalent of about Dh7,000. But I knew that my first job was not going to be my well-paid dream job.

    I have a pretty good job now but it took hard work and experience to get there, rather than an inflated sense of entitlement or the attitude that the world owed me a favour.

  3. Andrew on April 21, 2010 2:55 pm

    Every year the federal and local government discuss the fact that public sector growth both financially and numerically is unsustainable, every year the advantage of the public sector is retrenched financially or otherwise.

    For those in specialised technical roles (ADNOC, ADWEA, etc.) it makes sense they have to compete with both the market and each other, but paying salaries to non-technical staff that are about 3-4 times what you’d expect to get paid in developed countries is nothing more than state-sanctioned benefits.

  4. Miss Anne Thropic on April 21, 2010 4:18 pm

    Yep, pay specialists such as ADNOC engineers well, but Dh30,000+ salaries for desk-bound pen-pushers is insane.

    The aforementioned female graduate was also living at home in Abu Dhabi so it’s not as if exorbitant Abu Dhabi rent has to come out of her unrealistic salary. It is little wonder then that young Emiratis fritter away money on materialistic things, starting with the time they get $130 a week in pocket money.

    The sad part is that it would be so easy to sort out these country’s problems but the local whining about how they all suffer would be heard from space…

  5. Andrew on April 22, 2010 8:11 am

    I’m quite lucky that most of my closest friends are Emirati, however on a few occasions even they’ve rolled out the “I *only* earn 20,000 a month” line. For those who live at home and work in non-technical roles, and still find it hard to live on what is essentially 40,000 pounds a year with no overheads or tax – it astonishes me.


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