Empowering the GCC digital workforce: Building adaptable skills in the digital era (Media report)
To achieve their ambitious national plans such as Saudi Vision 2030 and Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)1 countries must increase efficiency in every sector. Digitization, enabled by a skilled and adaptable digital workforce, is a key component of this endeavor. However, an analysis by Strategy& together with LinkedIn revealed fundamental supply and demand issues in the GCC’s current digital job market that urgently need to be addressed before the benefits of digitization can be attained.
To boost their digital job market, GCC governments should partner with technology players, educational institutions, and corporations to launch initiatives that stimulate demand for digital professionals and secure a reliable local supply.
Digital industries can create much needed, high-value-added jobs
GCC countries need to generate more digital jobs2 because these tend to be sustainable, provide opportunities for self-employment, and give GCC organizations the home-grown skills they need for ICT transformation.
There are currently fewer digital jobs in the GCC than in countries benchmarked in the analysis by Strategy& together with LinkedIn. The ratio of digital jobs to the total workforce is 1.7 percent in the GCC compared to 5.4 percent in the EU.
Expatriates currently hold most digital jobs in the GCC. Nationals prefer more traditional career options such as in business, economics, and the public sector — areas that are at high risk of disruption.
Digital jobs possess significant advantages over traditional employment
Digital jobs are better able to adjust to new technological demands than many other jobs. The growth of such jobs will help nationals move from largely administrative jobs in the government sector to higher-value-added roles in industries with future importance. With the right measures, the GCC can create 1.3 million digital jobs by 2025, of which 700,000 would be in Saudi Arabia.
Digital employment involves more flexible work models that can increase labor force participation rates. Based on data from 2015, Strategy& has estimated that 3.9 million inactive women and youth in the GCC could benefit from such opportunities by becoming self-employed in posts that are digital in nature or involve knowledge of digital technology.
Finally, digital jobs are critical in the implementation of GCC economies’ ambitious national digitization plans, as the success of these plans relies on a knowledgeable and skilled workforce.
The availability of required digital skills is limited in the region
Digital professionals in the GCC do not yet have the advanced technical skills that are necessary in the digital age. Their skills are mainly soft and managerial (such as project management and team leadership), whereas advanced technical skills are more prevalent in other regions.
The analysis by Strategy& together with LinkedIn also showed that those skills most highly prized by employers — across all industries and all types of jobs — are virtually absent among GCC digital professionals.
GCC digital professionals’ skills tend to be mainly soft and managerial. Digital professionals often lack the advanced technical skills necessary for the digital age.
There is an insufficient regional supply of digital professionals
There are three root causes for the skills gap between GCC digital professionals and those in comparable countries:
- Limited academic preparation for digital skills: There is slow adoption of advanced ICT courses in the education system, a lack of skilled instructors to provide these advanced courses, and limited focus on developing the technical and vocational education and training sector in the region.
- Inadequate professional development environment: GCC digital professionals have skills that do not meet quality standards required by the global digital job market. Equally, employers do not offer internships/apprenticeship programs for graduates and do not have on-the-job training to ensure continuing skills upgrade and enhancement among current employees in the field.
- Limited interest in pursuing digital careers: GCC students prefer mainstream majors (business and economics) and stable public-sector employment. There is also generally low interest in digital careers, especially among women.
Demand for digital professionals is hampered by low ICT uptake
Across sectors in the region, there is limited adoption of emerging digital technologies due to insufficient understanding of digitization and lack of strategic direction to lead transformation.
Within the digital industry, there is inefficient spending across the value chain because companies primarily engage in sales operations and the provision of services rather than in creating value through research and development.
The entrepreneurship ecosystem is underdeveloped due to inadequate regulatory and legal frameworks such as access to finance, registration, and licensing. There is also insufficient entrepreneurship education and limited investment in research and development. This results in having few of these startups at the forefront of innovation.
Initiatives can have a lasting impact
GCC countries must address immediate needs in their digital market ecosystem by boosting both supply and demand.
Strategy& together with LinkedIn examined initiatives in different countries around the world and designed a comprehensive framework that integrates all the initiatives that best address the GCC’s current challenges.
GCC governments can lead by example through championing the digitization of public institutions. They can achieve this through promoting digital jobs within the public sector and setting out an accelerated digital career path in government with competitive compensation schemes.
GCC governments need to be flexible and stay up to date with the latest technological developments, accounting for them across all initiatives aimed at educational institutions, professional workplaces, and individuals. GCC governments will have to instill a culture of lifelong learning, and encourage professionals to continuously update their skills, to ensure their capabilities remain relevant in a market prone to disruption.
Governments must initiate digital job schemes and implement them through multi-stakeholder partnerships
GCC governments should partner with technology players, educational institutions, and the corporate sector to boost supply and create demand in the digital job market. Although governments have to start these initiatives, they can succeed only by building partnerships with other stakeholders. It is important to note that every initiative needs to have a clear governance model to properly allocate the roles and responsibilities among the different stakeholders and ensure its successful implementation, avoiding inefficiencies and overlap.
Governments must take an adaptive approach in boosting their digital job market, continuously accounting for the latest technological developments. They should also promote a culture of lifelong learning among their citizens.
- The GCC countries are Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
- Digital jobs refer here to roles in the production, distribution, implementation, or servicing of information and communications technologies (ICT). They include all such roles across sectors that are transforming business models using new technologies.