One of the toughest challenges to growth for Gulf companies is to find the right framework to recruit, retain and manage skilled workers.
Managing human resources remains challenge to growth
As the region's economies exit the financial crisis and shift gears towards more inclusive and sustainable growth, the challenge of creating adequate knowledge and talent resources - and managing them - is becoming more obvious.
The international focus on the GCC has sharpened following the global economic downturn and the subsequent austerity measures put in place to wither its impact.
Resilient economies in the Gulf are seen as drivers of regional and, to a great extent global, recovery and expansion. Countries such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar show a strong appetite for growth and diversification. GDP last year for Saudi Arabia is expected to be Dh1.7 trillion (US$463 billion), and in the UAE, Dh1tn GDP. The new phase of growth is expected to create significant opportunities for local populations and companies.
To attain and sustain such growth, robust, qualified human capital and knowledge resources, and the proper management of both, is needed. There is no serious dearth of qualified people in the region judging by the increasing number of GCC graduates passing out of local and foreign universities and technical training programmes, as well as the influx of the foreign workforce and companies helping to construct and operate various industries. With almost half of the population in the GCC estimated to be below the age of 20 such investment is inevitable.
But, at the same time, governments and policymakers in the region are baffled as to why this investment is not bringing the desired outcomes in terms of the overall human capital performance and sustained economic output.
That brings us to the most serious challenge facing human capital development in the region: inadequate management of knowledge and talent among organisations in the region. Talent management refers to the processes for identifying, assessing, acquiring, developing, deploying and retaining employees who are critical to an organisation's success.
There is widespread acknowledgement that finding the right framework to recruit, retain and manage human capital resources remains one of the toughest challenges to growth and continuity for organisations and governments in the GCC. With its vast financial and infrastructural resources and reserves of international expertise, the GCC has ample raw material and capabilities to groom and manage talent.
So given such favourable circumstances, what prevents organisations and governments in the region from effective assessment, monitoring and management of talent?
One of the studies I contributed to examine this issue showed insufficient opportunities to integrate talent fully in organisations, resistance to different ideas and opinions, over-reliance on strict seniority and hierarchy, gaps between expertise and job content and between knowledge and authority, and poor placement of graduates as the major challenges hindering knowledge and talent management.
Taking the time to reflect on and think strategically about how people and organisations interact and how the human resources capital is managed and motivated is crucial. This requires a thorough understanding of the broader challenges, which are organisation culture, knowledge management and talent management.
With knowledge emerging as the key differentiator between the successful, highly competitive economies and those that are merely "surviving" , knowledge management should be a top priority for the fast-growing countries in the region aiming to position themselves as knowledge economies.
There are abundant reserves of knowledge within GCC organisations as the region has been a hotbed of commercial and industrial activities that need specialisation and expertise; oil and gas exploration, aviation and export processing, to name a few.
However, much of the knowledge and expertise within GCC organisations lies with their expatriate workforce. This accumulated knowledge is often untapped and thus lost once those expatriates leave the region.
Realistically, the focus now should be more on promoting the sharing and transfer of accumulated knowledge and integrating it in local settings. Restructuring organisations to adapt as well as empower, and creating knowledge management protocols, will provide the ground for efficient talent management.
Talent management is a focused and integrated approach that calls for planning, attracting the right talent, putting people in the right places, aligning them with organisational goals, motivating them to perform and retaining them. Organisations should have the capacity to implement this approach across the hierarchy rather than restricting changes to top management.
The human resources (HR) scene in the GCC being more or less similar to the big picture means that organisations and HR practitioners in the region have to engage more with the rest of the world and keep a close watch on global trends and practices.
The good news is that there is a greater attention to these problems today. This is clear from the number of debates and conferences tackling the issue of human resource and knowledge management. Tomorrow and Thursday, the UAE Federal Authority for Government Human Resourcesis organising an International Human Resources Conference and Exhibition in Dubai. This promises to be a visible platform for HR practitioners, policymakers and academia in the GCC to critically reflect and strategically think about the best ways to tackle the talent and knowledge challenges and priorities in the post crisis period in a more collective manner.
Dr Khalid Othman al Yahya is a professor and director of the governance and public management research programme at the Dubai School of Government, and a steering committee member of the International Human Resources Conference and Exhibition