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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 June 2018

WEF urges leaders to adapt Mena education approach

Continuous learning crucial for advancement in the digital age

As the Mena region struggles with high unemployment and workplace gender gaps, leaders must adapt education models and ensure diversity in fast-growing sectors to prepare for the impending job disruption expected from technological change, according to recent surveys from the World Economic Forum (WEF).

The two white papers released this week highlight the challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution – driven by new energy supplies, mobile internet, climate change and big data – which is changing businesses and the socio-economic landscape globally.

According to one of the papers, Accelerating Workforce Reskilling for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, continuous learning is key for companies if they want to thrive in the advent of the digital age. Meanwhile, its Accelerating Gender Parity in the Fourth Industrial Revolution paper found increasing diversity within talent pools and leadership would prevent a widening gender gap.

While 35 per cent of the skills demanded for jobs across industries will change by 2020, at least one in four workers in OECD countries is already reporting a skills mismatch in their current role, the WEF said.

Here in the GCC, compared to 2015, a fifth of core skills required across all occupations will be different by 2020.

For the Mena region to address these gaps, Saadia Zahidi, the head of the education, gender and work system initiative at the WEF, said education – from primary and secondary right through to technical, vocational and adult training systems – must be evolved for the needs of the future to ensure that youth and children benefit from improved learning.

“Some countries are better prepared than others for doing so. For example, the UAE has a fairly high capacity to adapt and – for now – a fairly long timeframe in which to adapt,” she said, adding it was also critical that today’s workforce had opportunities “for continuous learning, upskilling and reskilling to ensure that they are able to engage in the rapidly transforming world of work”.

Options to facilitate this include continued learning and harnessing the power of blended offline and online learning.

In terms of supporting gender parity across all employment levels, leaders must “understand the barriers hindering parity”, the second report said.

“Broadly speaking economic gender parity has been stalling around the world and the upcoming changes in labour markets may further widen gender gaps if we do not ensure that there is parity in high growth sectors of the future,” said Ms Zahidi.

“This applies to the Mena region as it does elsewhere but particularly so as the region has the widest – but fastest narrowing – gender gaps in the world,” she said.

According to WEF’s Human Capital Index, the Mena region only captures 62 per cent of its human capital potential. Closing the gender gap would increase UAE GDP, for example, by over 12 per cent.

On Tuesday, a report by Deloitte found women are still largely under-represented on corporate boards, despite continued efforts to improve gender diversity.

The study revealed that women hold just 15 per cent of board seats worldwide – figures that were even lower in the region with women holding no more than 2 per cent of seats in the GCC region.

Rana Ghandour Salhab, a partner at Deloitte said a direct correlation was found between female leadership (chief executives and chairpeople) to board seats held by women.

“Organisations with women in the top leadership positions have almost doubled the number of board seats held by women. The inverse is true as well, with gender diverse boards more likely to appoint a female CEO and board chair,” she added.

Both WEF papers cited Saudi Aramco as an example of a regional company that has successfully implemented strategies to offset the region’s unemployment and gender challenges. According to the WEF, two in five graduates in the Mena region are out of a job.

About three-quarters of Saudi Aramco’s hires are recruited directly after their high school or college education, the report said, with an abundance of opportunities to develop their skills and abilities.

As of 2017, Saudi Aramco sponsors more than 270 young Saudi females globally in pursuit of different STEM majors.