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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 Glenn Freeman
“We’ve said, ‘Why don’t you forecast the future needs – looking across different sectors and geographical areas?’ If we can do it in Shanghai, across more than 500,000 commercial organizations, we can do it here,” he said.
According to Arkless, the Shanghai-based research conducted by Manpower, which spanned a population of around 26 million people, led to growth of around 15 percent across the small to medium business sector within two years.
Young and unemployable
Across much of the Arab world, labor demands drastically outstrip the supply of workers. Some of the most striking examples of this are in Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. According to figures quoted by Arkless, Saudi Arabia requires around 1 million skilled workers per year over the next 18 years, with the government allocating a record $37 billion to education during its last budget in an effort to meet capacity demands. In the U.A.E., the Labor Ministry forecasts it will require around 250,000 skilled workers per year to meet its economic growth targets.
Despite this need, and the relatively young demographics across the region, the unemployment rate within the Middle East is among the world’s highest. According to a recent Gallup study, this sits at 9 percent, compared to a global average of just under 6 percent. The same study also found that around 32 percent of the population across the Middle East is between 15 and 29 years of age.
According to Arkless, the low workforce participation rate among local populations across the Middle East defies these demographics, which he believes suggest an ideal resource to fill the skills gap. But in order to harness the workforce potential this represents, governments in the region need to understand how to motivate the local workforce.
“Historically, when a nation gets oil-rich, typically what they do is bring in foreign expertise to drive the economic growth. But what has happened here [in the G.C.C.] is that the foreign labor has stayed, and what you see is a marginalization of the local workforce set in,” he said.
Across the G.C.C., workforce representation of nationals is uniformly low. According to 2009 figures from Madar Research, only 13 percent of the U.A.E.’s workforce comprises Emiratis. In Qatar, this figure is just 12 percent, with similarly low numbers across the G.C.C. Only in Bahrain does the number of nationals in the local workforce outnumber expatriates, and even then only narrowly, at 51 percent locals to 49 percent expats.