'Lost workforce' needs new skills to find better future

The skills gap is widening; as certain skills become increasingly obsolete, the demand for other, newer skill sets are not being met by the available workforce

Laurent Probst of PwC Luxembourg. Courtesy PwC
Powered by automated translation

The world over, there is a growing mismatch between employer vacancies and candidate skills.

From Rio to Rome, San Diego to Saudi Arabia, hundreds of millions of unemployed, overqualified or underskilled workers do not have the relevant skill sets to fulfil specific roles today.

This "lost workforce" represents lower productivity than could otherwise be achieved and may lead to growing global dissatisfaction, particularly among youths.

The GCC is facing a shift in demographics known as the "youth bulge". Around 60 per cent of its citizens are under the age of 30. It is predicted that the GCC’s youth population will balloon to 65 million by 2030 compared to less than 30 million today..

Against this backdrop, youth unemployment is already more than twice as high as overall unemployment rates. According the World Economic Forum, youth joblessness stands at 11 per cent in the UAE, 20 per cent in Oman and is highest in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia at 27 per cent. Those rates are even higher among women.

The region’s high proportion of young people Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET), skills mismatches and bloated public sectors, plus the relatively small number of  women entering the workforce, are issues to be addressed in Arabian Gulf countries' forward-thinking transformational strategies.

If ever there was a time for governments, business and society to work together it is now. The skills gap is widening; as certain skills become increasingly obsolete, the demand for other, newer skill sets are not being met by the available workforce.

A new paper from PwC, The Lost Workforce: Upskilling for the Future – released in conjunction with the World Government Summit in Dubai, which starts today – looks into strategies for resolving upskilling issues for companies and countries to engender sustainable growth, employability and inclusion.

This paper addresses some of the innovative, ambitious and practical government policy solutions that will significantly and rapidly increase the skills portfolio of untapped talent pools in virtually every country. It offers a path to upskilling workforces at the time when the lack of preparation for a rapidly-moving jobs market, and growing knowledge obsolescence, have become tangible issues for economies and business.

The risk of widespread layoffs is growing yet, at the same time, the difficulty in finding qualified workers for specific areas means many jobs remain vacant indefinitely.

For organisations to address these challenges, the whole C-Suite - the top senior executives - must be conversant in every element of their businesses, particularly with the technology that is influencing their companies and their markets.

Today, studies from around the world show that education systems are falling behind, and the GCC region is no exception. The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) identified the UAE as having one of the most rapidly improving education systems in the world, but also noted that in mathematics, reading and science, students still have a way to go to match the average levels of achievement of advanced economies.
Most education curriculums globally still do not include, or encourage, teachers to focus on new cognitive or leadership skills – skills that are acknowledged to be the most likely baseline for all future jobs. Many faculties do not provide current perspectives on potential jobs, or the jobs market.

An education system has a responsibility to build students’ knowledge and their capacity to harness their potential for a brighter future. It must ensure that the majority of students are prepared for future jobs and the demands of the market. Curriculums must enable students to become productive, functioning members of the workforce and wider society. The general, and in many cases, outdated knowledge being taught today must be replaced.

Leadership, responsibility and accountability are integral to successfully resolving current unemployment and education challenges. Failure to anticipate and plan causes an inordinate level of risk and compromises growth.

Upskilling certainly represents one of the most important regional and global societal challenge for the next 10 years. Providing the right framework to enable and support upskilling throughout at-risk populations will support economic growth and social cohesion.

Given the social, economic and financial magnitude of the challenge to prepare workforces for future jobs, these issues may soon apply globally. Countries without the appropriate digital infrastructures and a well-prepared workforce may become no-go zones as the international community sees their growth stall or slow, and their businesses downsize.

Countries with visionary leaders who support enabling conditions for the adoption of the digital economy, however, will encourage the design of new, innovative solutions for their educational and vocational training systems.

These countries will develop more entrepreneurs and attract more investments to generate more domestic economic growth.

Laurent Probst is Partner and Government Digital Transformation & Innovation Leader at PwC.