WE are living in an age of disruption and globalization. Technology is changing the way we live and work, while the growth of global trade and international brands is impacting the opportunity to create jobs for the future.
The challenge facing many fast-growth and emerging market economies, therefore, is how to capitalize on their young and growing populations to create meaningful jobs which add value and drive economic growth and development.
To put this into perspective, countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region are facing a youth bulge with two thirds of Saudi Arabia’s population, for example, under 29 years old. In Jordan the figure is an astonishing 70 percent according to the OECD.
As a result the MENA region needs to create 100 million jobs in the next decade according to a 2014 report by the World Bank, to simply absorb the growing population. And yet, even in fast-growing and emerging market economies, employers are reporting a gap between the talent they need and that which is actually available on the market.
In short, economic growth and job creation is being impacted by the paradox of both an unemployment challenge and a skills crisis as firms struggle to recruit trained, role-specific talent.
Such an imbalance can be crippling to economic progress. It puts a strain on governments to provide support, perpetuating a vicious cycle of long-term unemployment and stagnation, and constraining the ability of nations to grow and innovate.
Positive action must be taken to not only develop government policies which are inclusive of youth, but also implement programs which deliver real, tangible results to give youth the skills they need for the jobs of tomorrow in an increasingly automated and technology driven workplace.
It is also important that the onus for change should not solely be the responsibility of government. In Europe, for example, multi-stakeholder public-private partnerships are tackling the lack of information and communication technology (ICT) skills. At the launch of the initiative by the European Commission in June 2013 a number of organizations made pledges to help provide a Europe-wide pathway to training and certification.
Positive action must be taken to not only develop government policies which are inclusive of youth, but also implement programs which deliver real, tangible results to give youth the skills they need for the jobs of tomorrow in an increasingly automated and technology driven workplace
Filling the skills gap: A 2014 report by International Data Corporation (IDC) suggests that there is a pressing need for such a pathway in the Middle East with the skills gap set to widen as demand for third platform technologies – mobile computing, social media and analytics, cloud computing and big data – rises and the supply of local skills lags.
Saudi Arabia is taking positive action to diffuse this imbalance. Among the targets set out in Vison 2030 by HRH Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is a plan to have at least five Saudi universities among the top 200 in international rankings by 2030, with the Kingdom developing modern curricula focused on rigorous standards in literacy, numeracy, skills and character development.
Simultaneously, Saudi Arabia is also focusing on the development of youth-led NGOs. The MiSK Foundation, for example, is working to hasten the shift to a knowledge-based economy by promoting practical schemes to support young people in developing the right entrepreneurial and cognitive skills.
One example of a MiSK Initiative program, which has delivered real impact is a hackathon run over 48 hours with live links between teams in Riyadh and London to develop solutions to healthcare issues through applied technology. The winning team developed a groundbreaking application to match blood donors with recipients – effectively, a LinkedIn for blood donations.
Other initiatives include partnerships with local and global organizations, such as Harvard University and NASA, which help to incubate the development of intellectual capital and ultimately unlock the significant potential within Saudi Arabia’s young populace.
This is why it is important that the Saudi capital, Riyadh, is hosting next month (3rd and 4th May, 2017) the seventh edition of the International Forum of NGOs, bringing together more than 250 global NGOs in official partnership with UNESCO, as well as more than 1,500 youth representatives and experts under one roof.
Intended as a platform to co-create initiatives and select ideas to enable the full engagement of young people within their societies and allow them to become the change-makers of tomorrow, it promises to be a landmark event for the global development of youth-focused NGOs and for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as it continues on its path of ambitious reform.
[Bader Al Asaker is Secretary General of MiSK Foundation. In his capacity as Secretary General, Bader’s role involves focusing on the country’s youth, and providing them with opportunities that help to foster their talent, creativity and innovation]