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  • Maniza Dewan

The fourth industrial revolution – Is the regional workforce ready?


We in the Middle East are fortunate enough to have the youngest population in the world at this current point in time. This has only been enhanced with increasing levels of education in our region. The potential of our young and dynamic population to contribute to the economic growth in the region is tremendous. However, this requires significant preparation to ready the workforce for the fourth industrial revolution – the digital revolution. It requires leaders from business and government to understand and plan for the future. Here are some facts that can help us understand the current situation as it stands:

  • The World Economic Forums Human Capital Index has found that the region currently captures an average of only 62% of its full human potential. Bahrain, Qatar and UAE have the highest percentages on the index in the region.

  • The region continues to be heavily reliant on foreign workers and there is existence of informal workers in almost all economies within the region. The labour market is highly segmented with technical, service and manual jobs being held by expatriates.

  • Though the region has invested heavily in improving educational achievements of its younger population (by 2030, the region is expected to have a tertiary educated talent of 50%), unemployment rates in the region stand at 31%. The more interesting fact is that university graduates make up 30% of the unemployment pool. Additionally, Linkedin data and UNESCO statistics also highlight there is a preference towards certain specializations such as business, law, banking etc.

  • Automation is a very real threat for the region. Average of 50% of the work activities are susceptible to automation. Given the pace at which digitalization is expected to now enter the middle east, this could lead to disruption in the job market.

The disruption expected to accompany the fourth industrial revolution will certainly bring fresh set of challenges to the labour market in the region. However, if managed carefully, the disruption can also lead to potential opportunities. We need to ensure that job market in the middle east is fluent in digital. This however makes things harder on us – how do we prepare for jobs that don’t even exist currently? A few things that need to be cognisant to be better prepared are:

  • The fourth generation will bring with it opportunities in high value-adding formal jobs such as data analytics, engineering, computers etc. The revolution will help the region move to a more knowledge – intensive jobs and activities.

  • The region’s largest industries such as oil and gas, aviation, petrochemicals, etc. will be central to the revolution. Retail within the region will also see changes in the way it currently operates. Readying the workforce for these changes will become necessary.

  • There will be tremendous demand for blended skills between digital and other traditional subjects such as – STEM and digital, Mechanical and digital, business management and data analytics.

  • There will be increased demand for user interface specialists, people who can facilitate machine and human communications.

  • The work space will also change. Increased safety measures, ability to remotely work using online platforms etc. might lead to more participation from women in the region.

  • There will be changes in the softer parts of the economy as well, such as with the care economy and education. Formalizing the care economy by making it more professional and of higher standards (such as with healthcare, domestic work etc.) might become imperative. Similarly investing teachers and educational institutes that are in line with the required skills will also be important.

The region has to ensure that the curricula is future ready, its population is digitally fluent and its students work closely with industries to understand the skill and cultural changes expected. We need to prepare for the future of work.


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