The Arab world has a real problem finding jobs for the young. Luckily the GCC countries have all the elements needed to tackle the issue.
GCC states have all the tools to create jobs for the young
According to the latest IMF research, millions of jobs will need to be created across the Arabian Peninsula by 2020, if we are to avoid a steep rise in unemployment.
With a quarter of Arab youth currently without jobs, leaders, governments and businesses across the Arab world have to find the optimal balance between two vital and related goals: creating growth and opportunities for the current generation while building infrastructure for generations to come.
It is somewhat worrying that despite the abundance of resources at our disposal, unemployment is still a significant issue. In fact the 25 per cent youth unemployment rate across the Arabian Peninsula is far higher than the global average, 15 per cent.
And yet I remain optimistic that the GCC countries have pretty much everything they need to build a thriving, human-driven economy.
The first of these assets is the leadership: with guidance from the top, almost every GCC country has devised a long-term nationwide development plan that takes into account everything from government and business initiatives to social progress, education and infrastructure development.
Within the context of this long-term vision, each country has remained flexible and agile in response to the ever-changing economic environment, updating its strategy as needed.
These initiatives would not have been possible without clear guidance and absolute support from leaders, who continue to monitor progress very closely. So, given the magnitude of the employment issues we face, at least we can say that we are in good hands.
Next come the institutions: from Mubadala Development Company in the UAE, to Mumtalakat Holding Company in Bahrain, each Gulf country has built institutions that are reshaping the economic landscapes of these countries.
Developing new industries and welcoming world-class companies within their borders gives young professionals access to new opportunities and development, making them just as competitive as their global counterparts.
In parallel with the new industries, new universities, such as Paris Sorbonne in the UAE and Carnegie Mellon in Qatar, will develop the human capital that our countries will need. Certainly this is a sound business opportunity for the universities, but in this case these partnerships are win-win situations, good for everyone.
Next come the young people themselves: probably one of the most important factors in dealing with unemployment is the young-adult population. Across the Arab world, today’s students and young adults are more driven and motivated than at any stage in history. And the resources, tools, and technology at their disposal have given them a strong sense of belief that their success lies in their hands.
Now merge that sense of individual belief with a strong government to nurture that energy, and you have a formula for true prosperity and sustainable success, in which our young people depend on themselves first for employment, then on the Government.
Perfection is beyond the reach of everyone. Although we have in place the building blocks to battle growing unemployment, there are several fundamental elements that need to change or to be put in place so as not to hinder or distract us on the journey to develop sustainable economies across the GCC.
First is creating a strong sense of meritocracy across the board; people must be recognised and promoted based on their capabilities and achievements. Every other consideration should be secondary. There can be no shortcuts.
Second is setting out, in each country, the policies and procedures for its people to pursue entrepreneurial opportunities freely. The process for starting a business must be as streamlined as possible, so that new employers can focus on creating value, rather than on filling in paperwork.
Lastly, and this is a longer-term issue but should be addressed soon, is the “cradle-to-the-grave” welfare system to which Gulf nationals have grown so accustomed.
In the pursuit of economic sustainability a country must rely on its people to be a significant source of value. A top-down process of constant giving could be a hindrance to achieving that in the long run, when financial and natural resources wear thin.
I am not calling for an end to Government support, but I am exploring the possibility that a long-term balance will need to be found, for the good of our countries, and for the generations of tomorrow.
Ultimately, as the GCC countries focus on building things that are the largest, tallest or richest, we need to shift our goal to building things that will take us as a people the furthest. Additionally we require a mind shift to stop looking out for the quick cash wins and focus on long-term economic sustainability, even if it does cause short terms pains.
As GCC nationals we have so much work to do. We are at a stage where every move we make has to consider the position of the next generation. Eventually our oil reserves will no longer be the driving force behind prosperity. Rather, what will matter is the value that we have created and left behind for future generations to carry forward. They are counting on us, and we can’t let them down.
Khalid Al Ameri is an MBA candidate at the Stanford Graduate School of Business
On Twitter: @KhalidAlAmeri