With more than half of its population under 25 years of age and the world’s highest regional youth unemployment rate, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region faces critical challenges. Concurrently and paradoxically, business leaders report difficulties in filling roles.
The Human Capital Index 2015, released last week by the World Economic Forum, shows that despite significant investment in education by many countries, the region is not equipping young people with skills for the 21st century. The gap between education systems and labour markets creates shortfalls in human-capital development and deployment across the entire population. Overall, the region has optimized only 60% of its human-capital potential, ahead of sub-Saharan Africa but behind all other regions.
Recognizing that longer-term reform by the public sector must be complemented by the active collaboration of the private sector, the World Economic Forum’s Regional Business Council (RBC) for MENA today launches a new phase of its New Vision for Arab Employment Initiative. It aims to invest in the continuous learning, training and job-readiness of the region’s youth, through collaborations between businesses and with education institutions, civil society and governments, to help education systems keep up with the needs of the labour market.
“Massive unemployment coupled with talent gaps is a pattern that is particularly acute in this region. And labour-market disruptions will only get worse as technology changes business models and skills requirements. The pilot initiative tackles today’s challenges while anticipating future trends and solutions, and aims to be a model to be used across the region,” said Saadia Zahidi, Head of the Employment, Skills and Human Capital Global Challenge Initiative at the World Economic Forum.
Nine founding partners from across the region, including Abdul Latif Jameel, Alghanim Industries, Consolidated Contractors Company (CCC), Crescent Enterprises, Crescent Petroleum, Jumeirah Group, Olayan Financing Company, VPS Healthcare and Zain Group, have committed to scaling their corporate initiatives or creating wholly new initiatives aimed at closing the skills gap in the region. Collectively these initiatives will offer skilling opportunities to 49,000 people. These commitments meet nearly 50% of the RBC’s target of skilling 100,000 young people by 2017.
“I am extremely proud to say that we have already been able to get halfway to the commitments needed to train people for job readiness in the region by 2017”, said Omar Kutayba Alghanim, Chairman of the Regional Business Council. “We have made a strong start, but it is only a start. If we are going to fundamentally tackle the employment challenge in the region, it will require wider public-private collaboration across the MENA region”.
Badr Jafar, CEO of Crescent Enterprises, said: “Creating new jobs alone cannot address our regional crisis of youth unemployment and underemployment. Equally important is the need to enhance the employability of our youth by equipping them with relevant skills to fill that vital gap, as well as empower them with a spirit of entrepreneurship.”
Based on clear objectives and metrics, the initiative will track progress on existing commitments and create strategic cooperation between sectors to make further relevant skilling and training interventions. At the same time, the Regional Business Council launches a Call to Action to other business leaders, governments and organizations to join this collaborative effort to maximize impact.
The New Vision for Arab Employment Initiative is one of several regional projects within the World Economic Forum’s broader Global Challenge Initiative on Employment, Skills and Human Capital, which produces analysis and fosters collaborative action to combat unemployment and skills gaps around the world.
© World Economic Forum 2015