3 Ways the private sector can help upskill Arab youth

Employers in the region continue to report that despite high levels of youth unemployment, they are still having difficulty in sourcing suitably qualified graduates. For decades, higher education institutions have focused on theoretical and technical skills with insufficient attention to transferable skills. The potential from strategic partnerships and projects with the private sector continues to remain untapped.

Leaders from the corporate sector need to be clear about their visions and human capital needs, and work hand-in-hand with education providers to ensure the current workforce is being reskilled and the future workforce is being prepared appropriately to meet these needs.

There are three actions that the private sector can take today to assure that the optimism of Arab youth is met with opportunities for better livelihoods.

1. Use strategic partnerships to foster growth

Strategic engagement between education providers and the private sector is essential for the sustainable growth of the region. For example, the announcement of the “Projects of the 50” development and economical programs embraced the private sector as part of the larger solution.

Greater cooperation between government and businesses will lead to positive outcomes. So, when the UAE government sets a target of 75,000 private-sector jobs in the next five years for Emirati youth, they drive all stakeholders to collaborate. And it is these kinds of bold measures that have made the UAE the country that young Arabs would most like to live in for the 10th consecutive year. Young Arabs now look to the UAE, with its growing economy and range of work opportunities, ahead of the US, Canada, France, and Germany.

Many Arab governments have made significant changes in recent years to focus on providing a stable and supportive environment where youth can learn and move into the workforce. But the context of the region consists of long-term socio-economic and institutional challenges. These include high unemployment rates, low female labour-market participation rates, variable education quality, and environmental and social security issues. Governments are unable to resolve all the issues and the increasing demands of a digital economy alone.

2. Be proactive and engage with the talent pipeline

Companies that can identify their current hiring needs, as well as anticipate their future growth, can effectively create mechanisms to nurture an engaged talent pool. By aligning their human capital needs with learning and development pathways, the private sector could actively engage in the training of the talent pipeline to help prepare youth for work.

As companies look to the future and plan to fill positions for roles that are yet to exist, they could explore innovative approaches to defining and building competencies. Companies could attract talent from a diversified and previously untapped market if they make sure that there is transparency in their talent outreach and explicit recognition of industry-recognized and market-driven credentials. Couple this with work-based experience opportunities, and the private sector could have a positive influence on the education to employment ecosystem.

3. Embrace the change to promote diversity and inclusion

The changes in the future of work are an opportunity. With the digital revolution welcoming automation, with working from home becoming normal, and with sustainability becoming a priority among consumers and corporate leaders, the demand for new skills will continue to increase.

If businesses expand access to digital employment opportunities to a greater diversity of people, they can also advance their diversity and inclusion programs and become more competitive, while enabling youth in the region to learn skills that will make them suitable for the jobs of the future.

Why it is important to act now

Youth in the GCC are highly optimistic and this needs to be met with opportunities for skilling and upskilling. The young workforce that is entering the job market during the 4th Industrial Revolution needs support.

Although governments are setting the policy and economic landscape for digitalization and automation, for this approach to work, the private sector has an important role to play across every industry. The youth might be optimistic, but unemployment rates are not.

According to a report by the World Economic Forum, more than 84% of UAE businesses are trying to source candidates with relevant tech skills as the unemployment rate rises for the second year in a row. Adaptation is critical to economic transformation in the region, and the private sector needs to partner with education and training providers in unity with the efforts of the government.


H.E. Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair, Chairman, Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education