The Gulf must collaborate in matching education to future labour market needs as a population boom transforms the region and its increasingly pivotal role in the global economy, opinion leaders have said ahead of an education summit in Bahrain. In the countdown to The Education Project 2010, which runs 8-10 October, attention has turned to an issue considered one of the most pressing facing the six GCC states. A recent report by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) - 'The GCC in 2020: The Gulf and its People' - notes that with one of the youngest and fastest-growing populations in the world, the future development of the Gulf ultimately depends on the success of efforts to educate and employ the next generation. A mismatch between education and business needs would result in an education-employment gap.
According to Dr Mona Mourshed who leads McKinsey & Co.'s Middle East practice, though much discussion has revolved around this gap and its root causes, less headway has been made in finding the solutions which can be scaled upwards. She will join key figures from academia, business and politics at The Education Project to discuss how to best build an education system in the Gulf to address the challenge ahead. The forum is held each year in the Kingdom having been founded under the initiative of His Royal Highness Prince Salman Bin Hamad Al Khalifa, the Crown Prince of Bahrain and Chairman of the Kingdom's Economic Development Board (EDB).
Kamal Ahmed, Chief Operating Officer of the EDB which is organising the annual conference in Manama, says: "The EIU forecasts the GCC population to increase by a third to 53 million by 2020 with the vast majority under the age of 25. This presents both challenges and major opportunities. Matching local labour supply to demand is the key to unlocking common goals in supporting economic diversification, growth and creating better opportunities for all."
"A large youth population can be very positive, leading to strong economic development in the case of ample job creation and a good match of human skills to employer needs," adds Huda Al Ghoson, General Manager, Training and Development at Aramco who is speaking at the event. "So it is imperative that effective collaboration and partnership be instituted among educators, governments and business leaders to create and sustain an environment conducive to life-long learning that meets the business needs of the day. High quality education is essential to lay the foundation for future growth to address the continuously changing requirements of the workplace and assure the sustainable development and growth at all levels of the economy."
The creation of greater opportunities and high value-added jobs in rewarding careers is central to Bahrain's own Vision 2030 and an ambition to contribute to the economic growth of the GCC as a whole. The process is being led by the EDB under the guidance of HRH the Crown Prince. The Education Project itself has grown out of the Kingdom's experience in learning from the best education systems around the world having been the first country in the Gulf to introduce a public education system in 1919, and to open education to women in 1928.
Kamal Ahmed explains: "People talk about India and China as major economic blocs. Our aspiration in Bahrain is for people to talk about India, China and the Gulf. Sustainable economic growth that provides opportunity for all is only achievable with the right education system in place. So we must work together in building an education system that equips an increasing number of graduates - including a growing number of women - with the right skills for the private sector. Different countries face different challenges but many of the issues are common. Bahrain has a strong track record but we too have much to learn. Our goal in establishing The Education Project is to share best practice and create a practical road map that can be followed to improve outcomes."
"Education is an economic issue," adds Waleed Al Banawi, Chairman of the Young Presidents' Organisation, MENA. "We need to connect the dots between education and workforce readiness... we need to make it a bottom-line issue for companies. The time has come for GCC countries to focus their energies on the quality of education, making sure that students are equipped with what they need for the labour market... and prepared for the jobs of tomorrow."
Abeer Shubassi, Senior Country Officer of the Education for Employment Foundation (EFE) and who joins Al Ghoson and Al Banawi in speaking at the event, says: "Many companies lack sufficient qualified human resources to expand and compete more effectively at local and international levels. They need employees with a strong work ethic, entrepreneurial mindset, leadership ability and cutting-edge professional and technical training... closing the skill gap increases the value of human capital for both youth and employers."