Rethinking Arab Employment


Countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – Bahrain,  Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates  – have made tremendous progress in the past decades, building  cities at the forefront of innovation, becoming global leaders in  select industries, and continuously expanding their global  aspirations. Yet, to sustain this momentum, dramatic progress  needs to be achieved in how young people, a demographic majority, engage in the economy and society at large. GCC  leaders are acutely aware that a job is more than a salary, and  that the possible consequences of compromised futures, because  of under- and unemployment, are deeply destabilizing.

They understand that  providing a dynamic, enabling environment in  which these youth legions can realize their  ambitions is critical to  whether their economies can achieve their long-term aspirations,  particularly in light of the current social context.

At present, however, even with wide acknowledgment of the  importance of the matter and despite decades of economic  expansion and extensive investments in education, infrastructure  projects, and economic diversification, high youth unemployment  rates  persist, often reaching double digits.

Against this backdrop, the World Economic Forum’s New Vision for Arab Employment Initiative convenes stakeholders around an impartial platform to create better understanding of the structural reasons for youth unemployment, and translate the widespread appetite for resolving the challenge into effective solutions that sustainably increase productive youth employment in the private sector. Recognizing the particularities of resource-endowed economies, the initiative began by engaging leaders of the GCC from business, government, civil society and academia at the highest levels to share perspectives and best practices, with the objective of advancing common action for creating an enabling economic environment for Arab youth.

The final report Rethinking Arab Employment: A Systemic Approach for Resource-Endowed Economies represents the culmination of an exhaustive exploration of the root causes and potential solutions for youth unemployment in GCC countries, based on the World Economic Forum’s Strategic Foresight approach. It works to understand the issue from stakeholders’ diverse perspectives and provides principles for the design of interventions. Thus, this report offers a tool to policy-makers and business leaders in addressing the issue effectively.

Key Messages

  • The demographic “youth bulge” represents one of the greatest opportunities, as well as one of the greatest challenges, faced by the Arab World.
  • In GCC countries, solutions to date show little progress in confronting the challenge of youth unemployment in a structural manner, in spite of existing financial means.
  • Possible explanations of limited progress are a lack of common understanding of the problem or a perception that risks associated with comprehensive solutions are too high.
  • Youth unemployment is a complex structural problem, driven by deep-rooted social and economic behaviours. An integrated, holistic approach helps identify the structural and interrelated reasons for youth unemployment and the vulnerabilities of the current employment model (see Figure 1).
  • The foundations of the social contract need to be modified so that national workers become integrated into the private sector if both purposes – social stability and economic prosperity – are to be sustained over the long term.
  • The implementation of systemic solutions, which require rebuilding the employment system, involves risks but creates a more sustainable system.

Figure 1: Dynamics and vulnerabilities of the employment system in GCC countries – An integrated framework


For more information on the project and to get involved, please contact:

Miroslav Dusek, Senior Director, Head of Middle East and North Africa
Trudi Lang, Director, Acting Head of Strategic Foresight
Natalie Hatour, Associate Director, Strategic Foresight
Hala Hanna, Senior Programme Manager, Middle East and North Africa
Diane Davoine, Project Associate, Strategic Foresight

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