Jobs and the Future of Work

See how the Middle East is people-powering the digital revolution

A cityscape of Bahrain in the Middle East

The Middle East is gearing its people up to drive the digital revolution Image:  Mustafa Abdulhadi

Maha Mofeez
Chief Executive Officer, Tamkeen
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  • The Middle East is embracing the digital revolution and large parts of the region are engaged in ambitious economic diversification strategies in a bid to reduce its reliance on oil and gas.
  • The region also benefits from a young, tech-savvy working population and high internet and mobile device penetration rates.
  • The region's governments are shoring up their technology talent by facilitating specialised training and upskilling and reskilling people to ensure they remain relevant to the labour market.

The world is entering a new digital era. Consumer expectations are shifting in alignment with digital trends and new technologies are revolutionising how we meet, consume and do business.

The term the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) describes the limitless possibilities of billions of people connected by mobile devices and empowered by emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, nanotechnology and more. The Middle East is embracing this digital revolution and is set to benefit from it substantially. Many Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries are engaged in ambitious economic diversification strategies designed to reduce their reliance on oil and gas. Countries such as Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have all outlined economic visions that involve a significant adoption of advanced technologies.

But, the pursuit of greater digitalisation in the Middle East is also showing us that it will be a revolution powered by people. Digital skills are critical for the pursuit of a digital economy and, as such, workforce education has become a key part of national digital transformation strategies.

It has never been more important for governments and private companies to create tech-literate workforces, by supporting training programmes and encouraging collaboration across sectors.

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Embracing the digital revolution in the GCC

The GCC is well-placed to adapt to an increasingly digital world, with many national governments investing in technology infrastructure and digital initiatives. Bahrain, for example, launched the region’s first onshore regulatory sandbox for fintech firms, which disruptive companies can use to develop their solutions before taking them to market. It was also the first GCC country to adopt a nationwide cloud-first policy. Such initiatives have attracted international companies, such as Amazon Web Services, who selected Bahrain to launch its first MENA hyper-scale data centres back in 2019.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are leading the front on international investment in data centres - Microsoft has announced plans to build data and cloud centres in Saudi Arabia and Amazon Web Services expanded its hyper-scale data centres to the UAE in August 2022.

The region also benefits from a young, tech-savvy working population and high internet and mobile device penetration rates. These factors are boosting the Middle East’s IT market, with some analysts estimating that it will be worth $95 billion by 2025, compared to $84.23 billion in 2020. This growth will create opportunities on several fronts, from increased productivity in traditional industries, such as logistics, transportation and healthcare, to entirely new career pathways in areas such as AI, data science and automation.

The digital revolution will generate significant benefits for the GCC. A fully-digital MENA economy could lead to an estimated rise in GDP per capita of 46% over 30 years – a long-term gain of at least $1.6 trillion. But the digital revolution will also enable GCC economies to diversify away from oil and gas by providing new opportunities in areas such as e-commerce, digital services and technology.

Diversification will, inevitably, create new jobs that will become an important driver of economic inclusion; but this digital transformation needs to be accompanied by appropriate and sustained investment in skills. Just 33% of technology jobs worldwide are filled by workers with the skills required to do them and 77% of technology jobs will require high digital literacy by 2030. Many GCC economies are including investment in digital education as part of their diversification strategies.

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What is the World Economic Forum doing about shaping the future of the Arab region?

Promoting talent, training schemes and upskilling

A growing digital economy in the Middle East will be accompanied by a growing need for digital talent. There is an increasing demand for highly-skilled digital jobs according to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2023 - from data analysts to machine learning specialists, robotic engineers to software developers, the GCC should be prepared to upskill its workforce to meet this growing demand.

The need for these professionals is mirroring the growth in emerging technologies: the MENA region is forecast to invest $178.1 billion in the ICT sector this year, up 3.1% from 2022. While PwC estimates that the AI sector could contribute $320 billion to the Middle East economy by 2030.

The growing number of software, telecoms and hardware companies in the region will need more programmers, coders and engineers. Several companies already operating in the Middle East are focusing on hiring from the region's young, digitally-savvy population. The Bahrain Economic Development Board and Tamkeen, the Labour Fund of Bahrain, have responded to the growing demand for skilled tech workers in the region by partnering with Citi to launch a groundbreaking initiative: a global technology hub situated at Citi's Bahrain offices. The hub aims to employ and develop 1,000 highly-skilled Bahraini coders over the next decade, providing the local workforce with opportunities to excel in the tech industry working on platforms such as Citi Velocity and CitiFX.

Saudi Arabia is leading in technology investment in the GCC - the Kingdom could spend as much as $24.7 billion on technology by 2030 and $6.7 billion on future technologies. These significant levels of investment are being complemented by ambitious workforce education initiatives. As part of its Vision 2030 plan, Saudi Arabia wants to train 40% of its workforce in basic data and AI skills.

Collaboration between the private and public sectors is key

We believe that digitalisation will, as a driver of productivity, increase living standards and create prosperity for all. As the world continues to digitally transform, jobs will change and workers will need to adopt the skills needed in these new economies. Digital skills help candidates to find more satisfying and lucrative employment. That is why it is more important than ever for governments to shore up their technology talent by facilitating specialised training, upskilling and reskilling people to ensure they remain relevant to the labour market.

In the UAE, the government is focused on developing the workforce’s digital skillset and has initiated several programmes to achieve that goal. The Jahiz programme is an online training platform that aims to upskill government employees in areas such as AI, blockchain and cybersecurity. The UAE’s ICT Fund, meanwhile, collaborates with universities and research organizations to offer technological education to Emiratis at different academic levels.

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​​In Bahrain, Tamkeen is working to establish strategic partnerships with world-renowned tech training providers, such as General Assembly, SANS Institute and Reboot (powered by 01Edu). Through these partnerships, specialised technology training is provided to Bahraini nationals to enable them to upskill and reskill and secure sustainable career paths in the tech sector.

Tamkeen also partners with reputed educational institutions, such as the University of Bahrain and Bahrain Polytechnic, to provide high-quality tech training for Bahrainis through projects such as the Cloud Innovation Center (in partnership with Amazon Web Services) and the iOS App Development Program provided by Bahrain Polytechnic’s Apple Certified training centre.

To incentivize private sector enterprises to invest in their workforce, Tamkeen provides financial grants for programmes that support the training and employment of Bahraini nationals. Tamkeen's objective-driven programmes empower digital transformation, innovation and tech disruption in enterprises, enabling their workforces to build expertise in these areas.

In addition, Tamkeen has launched initiatives to bridge the skills gap and connect local talent with employers. The Kawader Portal acts as a repository of local talent in the ICT sector, while Skills Bahrain fills the skills gap of local talent resulting from constant changes and development in the labour market. These initiatives raise the competitiveness of individuals in line with current and future market needs.

The digital world demands digital skills. Governments can support their transformation into a digital economy by investing in education, implementing policies that support growth and encouraging private sector provision through appropriate enabling regulation and support schemes. But they should always remember that the greatest and perhaps the only true driver of the digital revolution is going to be their people.

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