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Close Skills Gaps and Gender Gaps to Prepare MENA for the Future of Jobs

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] T [/yt_dropcap]he Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is endowed with a young, growing and increasingly well-educated population, which, if skilled for tomorrow’s jobs and offered new and productive employment opportunities, has the potential to significantly enhance the region’s growth.

However, with 31% of young people unemployed, new and urgent action is needed to realize this potential. In addition, even when skilled talent is present – particularly educated women – it is not being deployed effectively in the workforce.

The analysis in the new report, Future of Jobs and Skills in MENA: Preparing the Region for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, released today, also finds that there is no room for complacency. Few of MENA’s economies are fully prepared for the impending disruption to jobs and skills brought about by technological change. The crucial question for the region, therefore, is how to capitalize on this short-term demographic and technological window of opportunity and prepare its working-age population as well as today’s schoolchildren for the future of work. The report aims to serve as a practical guide for business, government, civil society and education leaders.

Key findings from the report, which uses new data from LinkedIn, include:

Young people are almost five times more likely to be unemployed than their adult counterparts in the region. However, in contrast to global patterns, graduates make up nearly one-third of the total pool of unemployed in the region.

The United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia lead the way in the local availability of high-skilled jobs. Common forms of high-skilled employment in the MENA region include commercial bankers, accountants, school teachers and academics, engineers and information technology consultants, according to LinkedIn’s data. Tracking trends in the growth and decline of roles in MENA labour markets reveals a growing demand for health, education, care, personal services as well as creative, travel and tourism professionals.

As the region already faces a skills gap according to business leaders, the region will need to prepare current and future workforces for the future of jobs, particularly high-skilled roles, to remain competitive. Analysis suggests that 41% of all work activities in Kuwait are susceptible to automation, as are 46% in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, 47% in the UAE, 49% in Egypt, 50% in Morocco and Turkey, and 52% in Qatar. Reskilling and upskilling sections of the workforce that are likely to be affected will also be critical for the region to manage the transformations underway in the labour market.

Often having higher levels of educational attainment and workplace skills, women in MENA represent significant human capital potential. However, workforce gender gaps remain wide, ranging from just over 40% in Kuwait and Qatar to nearly 80% in Algeria and Jordan. Integrating more female talent will be a key pathway for workforce planning in the region.

“The data show that, to prepare for the future of work, the region must take action to invest in talent, close skills and gender gaps and create high-value-adding jobs to unlock the potential of a young population and to equip economies to tackle the challenges of the 21st century,” said Saadia Zahidi, Head of the Education, Gender and Work System Initiative and Member of the Executive Committee at the World Economic Forum.

Action is underway to meet these jobs and skills challenges and opportunities in MENA. As part of the broader efforts of the World Economic Forum’s System Initiative on Shaping the Future of Education, Gender and Work, projects to advance skills and gender parity in the region are being scaled up and will be further developed at the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa, to be held in Jordan on 19-21 May.

To prepare workforces for the future of jobs, the New Vision for Arab Employment (NVAE) project serves as a platform providing new insight and bringing together business efforts to address future-oriented skills development. The project also supports constructive public-private dialogue for urgent and fundamental reform of education systems and labour policies.

“Our region, with its young population, stands ready to gain from its enormous human potential – but we need to do our part to make it happen. We need to do more to skill the population for jobs, now and in the future, and to provide the high-value employment this region needs to excel through the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The New Vision for Arab Employment contributes to this goal and is committed to creating a lasting impact on the MENA region,” said Omar K. Alghanim, Chief Executive Officer, Alghanim Industries and Chair of the NVAE.

The NVAE has garnered commitments from businesses across MENA to provide employability skills to 250,000 people in the region. The project is inviting businesses, in partnership with government, civil society and the education and training sectors, to scale this action and contribute to broader targets to skill, upskill or reskill 1 million people by 2018 and 5 million people by 2020 in MENA, Africa and other regions.

To help close workplace gender gaps, the Gender Parity Task Force model brings public- and private-sector leaders together to better understand the barriers to women progressing in the workplace and to take action to accelerate progress. The task force model – previously piloted in four countries and now being scaled across the world – focuses on shifting stereotypes about women in work, increasing female participation in the labour market at all levels, and closing the gender wage gap. Bahrain will be the first country in MENA to implement this enhanced model, acting as a trailblazer in the region for this collaborative action on gender parity.

“With relatively high rates of female education, Bahrain stands to make significant economic gains from integrating more women into the workforce. Progress is already underway in the country and we look forward to building on this through a new Gender Parity Task Force, working across the public and private sectors to accelerate change,” said Khalid Rumaihi, Chief Executive of the Bahrain Economic Development Board.

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COVID-19’s impact on wages is only just getting started

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Global pressure on wages from COVID-19 will not stop with the arrival of a vaccine, the head of the International Labour Organization (ILO) warned on Wednesday, coinciding with a major report showing how the pandemic had slowed or reversed a trend of rising wages across the world, hitting women workers and the low-paid hardest.

“It’s going to be a long road back and I think it’s going to be turbulent and it’s going to be hard”, said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder, as he announced the findings of the ILO’s flagship Global Wage Report, which is published every two years.

‘Extraordinary blow’

Except for China, which was bouncing back remarkably quickly, most of the world would take a considerable period of time to get back to where it was before the pandemic, which had dealt an “extraordinary blow” to the world of work almost overnight.

“The aftermath is going to be long-lasting and there is a great deal, I think, of turbulence and uncertainty,” Mr. Ryder said. “We have to face up to the reality, at least a strong likelihood that… as wage subsidies and government interventions are reduced, as they will be over time, that we are likely to face continued downward pressure on wages.”

But he added that it was unlikely and in many ways undesirable that the world should simply try to return to how it was before the coronavirus struck.

Cruel revelation

“This pandemic has revealed in a very cruel way, I have to say, a lot of the structural vulnerabilities, precariousness, that is baked into the current world of work. And we need to take the opportunity – it’s almost indecent isn’t it, to speak of opportunity arising out of this mega global tragedy of the pandemic? – but we do have to extract from it, the types of opportunities that allow us to think about some of the fundamentals of the global economy and how we can, in the bounce back process, make it function better.”

The Global Wage Report showed how the pandemic has put pressure on wages, widening the gap between top earners and low-wage workers, with women and the low-paid bearing the brunt.

After four years when wages grew on average, by 0.4-0.9 per cent annually in advanced G20 economies and 3.5-4.5 per cent in emerging G20 economies, wage growth slowed or reversed in two-thirds of countries for which recent data was available.

Low-wage job disaster in the US

But the figures only reflect wages for those who have jobs, and in some countries, such as the United States, so many low-paid workers had lost their jobs that average wages appeared to have risen, a misleading picture.

The damage could have been worse if governments and central banks had not stepped in to dissuade companies from laying off workers during the pandemic lockdowns, the ILO report said. It said such measures had allowed millions of wage earners to retain all or part of their incomes, in contrast to the impact of the global financial crisis a decade ago.

‘Constructive social dialogue’

But for economies to start returning towards sustained and balanced growth, incomes and aggregate demand would need to be supported and enterprises would have to remain successful and sustainable.

“Constructive social dialogue will be key to success in achieving this goal”, the ILO report said.

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COVID-19 crisis highlights widening regional disparities in healthcare and the economy

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The impact of the COVID-19 crisis on people and economies has highlighted widening regional disparities in access to healthcare and economic growth and persistent disparities in digitalisation over the past decade, according to a new OECD report.

Regions and Cities at a Glance 2020 says that at the onset of the pandemic, some regions were less well prepared to face the health emergency. With 10 beds for every 1000 inhabitants, regions close to metropolitan areas have almost twice as many beds as remote regions. Over the last decades, most regions in OECD countries have seen a significant reduction in the number of hospital beds available per inhabitant, with an average decline of 6% since 2000 and of 22% in remote areas.

The health impact of COVID-19 has been particularly hard in some areas within countries. For example, in some regions of Colombia, Italy and Spain, the number of deaths between February and June 2020 was at least 50% higher than the average over the same period in the 2 previous years.

Morbidity rates that make some places more vulnerable to health crises than others also vary widely. In some regions in Mexico, Chile and the United States, close to 40% or more of the population is obese, posing a higher risk in terms of fatal diseases. For example, due to higher obesity levels, in Mississippi the average likelihood to suffer severe symptoms if infected with COVID-19 is roughly 23% higher than in Colorado.

People living in large cities and capitals were also more able to quickly shift to remote working. Many rural areas still suffer from a lack of access to high-speed broadband, a lower share of jobs amenable to remote working and a less well-educated workforce. One in three households in rural areas does not have access to high-speed broadband, on average. Overall, only 7 out of 26 countries have succeeded in ensuring access to high-speed connection to more than 80% of households in rural regions. And in some regions in Italy, Portugal and Turkey, 25% or more of the population does not use the Internet or does not have a computer.

Some regions were also struggling economically before the crisis. After a period of decline in the early 2000s, gaps in GDP per capita across small regions in the OECD area have increased, reflecting a long-standing process of concentration of population and economic activities in metropolitan areas.

The evolution of regional economic disparities remains very heterogeneous across countries. Contrary to the OECD-wide trend, one-half of OECD countries experienced an increase in the gap between their richest and poorest regions. Trends in regional productivity follow similar patterns. Since 2008, only one-third of OECD countries have experienced an increase in productivity in all regions.

With more than 100 indicators, Regions and Cities at a Glance 2020 combines official statistics with new, modelled indicators based on less conventional data sources, analysing trends in health, well-being, economic growth, employment and the environment, as well as regions and cities’ preparedness to face global crises and adapt to megatrends.

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Cash flow the biggest problem facing business during COVID-19 crisis

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A new report  on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic  on businesses shows that their greatest challenges have been insufficient cash flow to maintain staff and operations, supplier disruptions and access to raw materials.

With businesses already undergoing significant competitive pressure prior to the crisis, government restrictions, health challenges and the economic fall-out brought by COVID-19 further set back many enterprises.

Interrupted cash flow was the greatest problem, the survey found. More than 85 per cent reported the pandemic had a high or medium financial impact on their operations. Only a third said they had sufficient funding for recovery. Micro and small enterprises (those with 99 employees or fewer) were worst affected.

The survey, carried out by Employers and Business Membership Organizations (EBMOs), involved more than 4,500 enterprises in 45 countries worldwide. EBMOs gathered data from their enterprise members between March and June 2020. The businesses were asked about operational continuity, financial health, and their workforce.

At that time, 78 per cent of those surveyed reported that they had changed their operations to protect them from COVID-19, but three-quarters were able to continue operating in some form despite measures arising from government restrictions. Eighty-five per cent had already implemented measures to protect staff from the virus.

Nearly 80 per cent said they planned to retain their staff – larger companies were more likely to say this. However, around a quarter reported that they anticipated losing more than 40 per cent of their staff.

Looking into the future, preparing for unforeseen circumstances and mitigating risks associated with a disruption of business operations is needed. Fewer than half the enterprises surveyed had a business continuity plan (BCP) when the pandemic hit, with micro and small businesses the least likely to have made such preparations. Additionally, only 26 per cent of the enterprises who responded said they were fully insured and 54 per cent had no coverage at all. Medium-sized enterprises, (those with 100 to 250 employees), were most likely to have full or partial coverage.

Strengthening government support measures for enterprises are also vital for their recovery. Four out of ten enterprises said they had no funding to support business recovery while two-thirds said funding was insufficient. Of the sectors analysed, the tourism and hospitality sector, followed by retail and sales, were most likely to report funding issues.

The report production was facilitated by EBMOs who collected and shared the survey data with the Bureau for Employers’ Activities  (ACT/EMP) at the International Labour Organization. ACT/EMP is a specialized unit within the ILO Secretariat that maintains close and direct relations with employers’ constituents.

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