Jobs and the Future of Work

6 things to know about jobs and skills in the Middle East and North Africa

The region faces some unique challenges Image: Rob Potvin

Till Leopold
Head, Inclusive Economies Practice, Centre for the New Economy and Society, World Economic Forum
Vesselina Stefanova Ratcheva
Head of Metrics, Communication Strategy and Coordination, World Economic Forum
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Middle East and North Africa

The Middle East and North Africa is home to a rising number of well-educated individuals. By 2030, the region is set to expand its tertiary-educated talent pool by 50%. However, currently two in five graduates are out of a job.

To tap into the expanding capacity of the regions’ population, governments must ensure there are opportunities for people to apply their skills to drive growth and prosperity and as the global landscape of work changes, there will be fresh challenges in the region’s labour markets. A new report by the World Economic Forum features 6 key findings about the future of jobs and skills in the region.

1. The population is young, growing and increasingly well-educated but underemployed

Currently, young people under the age of 25 constitute nearly half of the region’s population. By 2030, that is projected to increase by more than a quarter – and a significant share of it will be of prime working-age. Across the region, countries have improved the educational attainment of their younger generation at notable rates, yet graduates make up nearly one-third of the total pool of those unemployed. This poses both a challenge and an opportunity for governments and businesses: how can they make the most of the talent of this up-and-coming generation by creating dignified and productive work?

2) The next resource boom should be people

The region has deployed many resources towards greater prosperity, yet it lags behind in the global community when it comes to making the best use of its talent. The World Economic Forum’s Human Capital Index, which measures the extent to which countries optimize the well-being and productivity of their workforces, finds that the Middle East and North Africa, on average, only captures 62% of its full human capital potential, compared with a global average of 65%.

3) Provide opportunities for women to drive growth

The most commonly squandered human resource of any economy is one half of its population, women. In the Middle East and North Africa women are highly educated, but their talents are often under-employed in the formal economy. The region is using 30% less of its female capacity than the global average. To develop their economies’ full capacity, leaders in the region should look to this latent talent.

4) Digital will transform business models and labour markets

A wide range of trends is changing industries and the way people work in the region. These have the potential to augment the abilities and productivity of workers at all skills levels and to create new and more flexible jobs. This could strengthen inclusiveness and social cohesion in the process, but only if the region makes the right investments in reforming education, upskilling and reskilling.

5) More tech skills needed

In particular, more STEM and ICT skills. Currently, 29% of the region's tertiary-educated workers have graduated with a qualification broadly in the field of engineering, manufacturing and construction – but only 13% have studied subjects related to information technology. While a large proportion of these degree holders work in the traditional sectors requiring know-how, such as oil and gas, a growing share of demand comes from a range of industries, including professional services; financial services and insurance; and government, education and non-profit.

6) Today's skills and tomorrow's jobs

The current wave of technological change will have a profound impact on labour markets, although the pace of that change will vary within the region. A number of countries – including Turkey, Tunisia and Jordan – are significantly exposed to the job disruptions of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (which we measure through the spread of latest technologies and diversification and efficiency of local labour markets). These countries’ current capacity to meet the requirements of future jobs leaves little space for complacency. While a number of other countries – including Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates – are better-positioned for now, they must not waste this window of opportunity for engaging in reforms, reskilling and upskilling.

The World Economic Forum’s New Vision for Arab Employment, a part of the broader efforts of the Forum’s System Initiative on Shaping the Future of Education, Gender and Work, serves as a platform for such action.

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Jobs and the Future of WorkEducation and Skills
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