Empowering the GCC digital workforce

Building adaptable skills in the digital era

October 2, 2017

Executive summary

Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries1 are engaged in ambitious national transformation plans such as Saudi Vision 2030 and Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030. The full scale of these plans can be realized only by increasing efficiency across sectors, mainly through digitization. A digitized economy requires a skilled digital workforce able to keep pace with the rapidly changing information and communications technology (ICT) industry. Digital jobs have other benefits, including flexibility and project-based work models that can increase labor force participation, particularly among women. However, such digital professionals and jobs are in short supply in the GCC.

An analysis by Strategy& together with LinkedIn in 2017 revealed key supply and demand issues in the GCC’s digital job market. At present, the few existing digital jobs are held mostly by expatriates. Educational and professional development environments do not prepare GCC nationals with the necessary digital skills to match the global ICT industry’s changing requirements, which serves to dissuade job seekers from exploring the field. At the same time, the region remains largely a technology consumer, as evidenced by an underdeveloped ICT sector. Also, there is low digitization across sectors and limited innovation in digital entrepreneurship.

The analysis conducted by Strategy& together with LinkedIn concluded that GCC governments should partner with technology players, educational institutions, the private sector, and entrepreneurs to launch initiatives that grow the digital job market by helping the workforce to develop and retain digital skills and creating high-value jobs. Governments should build the right skills across all stages of education, improve professional development opportunities, and foster enthusiasm for working in the digital field. A culture of lifelong learning is crucial to keep skills relevant in a continuously progressing market. Governments should also promote digitization across sectors, stimulate the ICT industry, and encourage digital entrepreneurship to transform their economies into technology producers and innovators.

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Digital jobs can help fill a significant portion of the estimated job gap in the GCC

GCC countries are engaged in large-scale national transformation and economic diversification plans that will require them to maximize efficiency throughout their economies. Digitization will be one of the key enablers in achieving such an endeavor. This leads to a recognition that they need a capable digital workforce to be able to attain these economic goals. However, the GCC lacks these digital professionals. Compared to international benchmarks, the percentage of the workforce holding digital jobs is low in GCC countries. For instance, the average percentage of digital jobs in 2015 was at 1.7 percent in the GCC and at 5.4 percent in the EU. Even though the United Arab Emirates (UAE) boasts the highest proportion of digital jobs in the region (2.9 percent), it is behind countries like Estonia, Finland, Singapore, and the U.K. (see Exhibit 1).

This report defines digital jobs as roles in the production, distribution, implementation, or servicing of ICT. They include all such roles across sectors that are transforming business models using new technologies (see Exhibit 2). The fact that these jobs are enabled by emerging technologies means they are continuously changing as technological advances redefine them or render some obsolete.

For instance, the next wave of digital jobs will be shaped by the “Essential Eight” technologies: blockchain, 3D printing, drones, virtual reality, augmented reality, the Internet of Things, robotics, and artificial intelligence.2

Moreover, few nationals across the region actually hold these jobs; they are mostly filled by expatriates. For example, nationals hold only 13 percent of the total digital jobs in Qatar and 5 percent of those in the UAE.

To remedy this, GCC countries should undertake the large-scale creation of digital jobs — both within and outside the ICT sector. Without this impetus, the lack of digital jobs will contribute to a larger anticipated job shortage of 3.1 million posts for their nationals, across industries, by 2025 (see Exhibit 3).

Conclusion

GCC governments need a comprehensive plan that focuses on boosting digital professionals’ skills and developing a workforce of continuous learners, while at the same time creating attractive employment opportunities. It is crucial that these plans continue to be updated to guarantee a capable digital workforce, equipped with sustainable skills that can adapt to new technologies.

1 The GCC consists of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

2 “Tech breakthroughs megatrend,” PwC, 2016.

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