Employment in the Arab world: The Arab world’s most obvious ‘paradox’ lies in the fact that it has one of the youngest population in the world -60% are below the age of 25- yet one of the highest unemployment rates in the world which currently stands at 24.9%. I expect the problem of unemployment to continue growing at a rate higher than the rate of job creation in the Arab world. Unemployment and job security will remain at the top of people’s concern in the Arab world, followed by security and war.
The next 10 years should see increased collaborations between the public and the private sector to address unemployment through initiatives and projects with increased contribution of global NGOs. If you are familiar with the term ‘PPP’ (Private Public Partnerships) chances are you will be hearing it more often when the topic of unemployment is raised. I predict a near future where a new legislation is announced by some GCC countries requiring nationals applying for jobs in the public sector to serve at least four years in the private sector. This will legislation will encourage the integration of more nationals in the private sector, and enhance the quality of workforce in the public sector in the long run.
Some countries in the Arab world will take a more ‘protectionist’ approach by announcing legislation that will limit the influx of expatriate workforce to their countries. Whilst other Arab countries will adopt a more aggressive focus on developing and empowering it’s national workforce so that they remain competitive in the labour market.
It will be the new generation of national employees –otherwise known as Generation Y- that will lead a paradigm shift among jobseekers and employers alike. Their flexibility, education, less conservative nature, their ability to embrace technology easily and exposure to the cultures of the world will be instrumental. However I see an imminent clash between the young Generation Y (born between early 1980s and 90s) and the older Generation X (born between 1965 and 1978) in the Arab world. This clash will be between a very ambitious younger generation Y who has grown frustrated at the social, economic or political status quo and will not tolerate their ambitions being kept under a lid anymore. While on the other side of the clash will stand the more seasoned generation X the majority of who will find it difficult to accept change. One of the results of this clash will be a growing move away from employment towards self-employment led by young employees who are either disgruntled or demotivated by an Arab workplace that does not fulfil their aspirations. Lower productivity and inefficiency, mediocrity in the workplace, low motivation amongst employees and Cliquism will be some of the other implications of this battle between both generations. The frustrations of the youth, along with the increasing number of the unemployed could potentially trigger other demonstrations in a number of Arab countries. I also foresee the emergence of an increasingly talented and competitive Arab workforce which will be well qualified by global standards and flexible; sadly a significant majority will continue to find it challenging to earn recognition at home in comparison to their foreign counterparts until a real mentality shift takes place. For this young Arab workforce it will be the global multinationals or the entrepreneurial ventures they establish that will cut their teeth and catapult them in the world of work.
Home-based employment and entrepreneurship will grow ever more popular and will become key towards tackling unemployment amongst females in the Arab world. Part-time work, contract-work, project based or free-lancing work will also become more common. Females in the Arab world will continue to face cultural and social obstacles when it comes to employment, however despite these hurdles well qualified and experienced female employees will continue to take up mid-to-senior positions in the workplace and in government at a rate faster than male counterparts.
The idealist in me predicts the creation of an economic bloc where we could potentially see some countries in the Arab world band together to facilitate cross-border cooperation in the face of growing economic uncertainty and the increasing demographic imbalance. I suspect the initial purpose of such an economic bloc will be to enable the movement of national workforce between member countries and their integration in the job market. This union help fill the gaps that exist in a number of economies while opening up the labour market by creating more jobs for member states. So for example, the growing hospitality, retail and manufacturing sector in the UAE and Qatar could make use of citizens of neighbouring countries who are qualified and capable to take on these roles.
Finally, I foresee the Middle East region being on the verge of an enormous opportunity where it stands to benefit tremendously from two significant projects that are due to take place in the next ten years; one is confirmed and that is the World Cup in Qatar due in 2022 which is projected to create 1.5 million jobs, while the other is Dubai’s bid to host the World Expo in 2020, a project that is estimated to create 280,000 new jobs. In retrospect, I am quite optimistic about the employment scene in the Middle East region due to a mix of government employment policies, a growth in jobs created by the private sector and a positive shift in jobseekers’ attitudes.