x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Jobs storm gathers on the horizon in Gulf

In the GCC, a flood of young people will graduate from schools and start working in the next decade.

A looming jobs crisis in the GCC may at first seem counter intuitive: with high oil revenues and economies pegged to grow faster than in the developed world, there would appear to be plenty of money to spend on educating and employing young people.
The reality, though, is stark and daunting. In the GCC, as in the rest of the MENA region, a flood of young people will graduate from schools and start working in the next decade.
That means millions of people clamouring to get into the workforce in the coming years, posing major challenges for governments and the private sector as they try to find jobs for them and foster the growth of a middle class.
"All these people will come on the labour market in the years to come," says Joe Saddi, the chairman of Booz & Company, a consulting firm. "Some are already on the labour market.
"If you couple this with the fact that in the region on average the MENA level unemployment of the youth is almost twice as high as the [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] average, there is no choice for the MENA region but to make sure they do everything they can to favour the rise of the middle class," says Mr Saddi.
Awash with oil revenues they may be, but even the Gulf's rich governments do not have the capacity - or, in many cases, the willingness - to employ a large portion of the young population.
At the same time, many young nationals from Gulf states still say they would prefer to work for the government rather than private companies amid already sky-high youth unemployment.
About 66 per cent of young Emiratis would prefer a government job to working in the private sector, or starting their own businesses. In Kuwait, 71 per cent of youths would rather take government work, while 73 per cent of Bahrain's young people prefer government jobs, according to a recent Gallup survey. Meanwhile, 28 per cent of Saudis between the ages of 15 and 29 are not employed and not in school. The figure is 27 per cent for Bahrain and 12 per cent in the UAE.
The survey also showed a strong interest in entrepreneurship, but young people consistently said starting a family and attending to religious duties was more important than work - and only 47 per cent said they worked full-time.
Whatever the causes, though, both analysts and governments know major problems are on the horizon if they fail to act quickly.
"There is no time to say we need reform and it will take another five years to trickle down," says Soraya Salti, the regional director of Injaz al Arab, a business mentoring initiative.
afitch@thenational.ae