Three-quarters of employees in the two biggest Arab economies - Saudi Arabia and the UAE - believe robots can replace them at work in the next ten years, reflecting a growing awareness about how significantly technology can impact the job market in the region, according to a new survey.
Workers are preparing for the rapidly changing labour market, however, a fear of automation - the technology that enables robots to perform repetitive tasks - remains a major concern for those getting the fewest opportunities to learn new skills, global consultancy PwC found.
With the regional governments' push to invest more on artificial intelligence, digitalisation and automation, employment opportunities are being transformed, favouring a more tech-savvy labour force. By 2022, 42 per cent of core skills required to perform existing jobs are expected to change, according to the World Economic Forum.
In addition to high-tech skills, specialised interpersonal skills - so-called "soft skills" - will be in greatest demand, in sectors including sales, human resources, healthcare and education.
“Our jobs are changing, and fast. Many roles are disappearing altogether, with new, more meaningful roles taking their place," Hani Ashkar, a senior Middle East partner at PwC, said.
For its part, PwC is investing $3 billion (Dh11bn) back into the company to up-skill its employees over the next four years.
The company's findings are based on a survey taken in October and November 2019 of a sample of 2,016 adults in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, of whom 89 per cent were employed. The regional research is part of a larger global study that polled more than 22,000 adults across 11 other countries.
Opportunities and attitudes "varied significantly" based on an individual’s level of education, location, gender and age, according to PwC.
Women in the GCC expressed far greater anxiety than men about technology upending the job market with 63 per cent of women said they are worried that new technology will make their job redundant versus 35 per cent of men.
Men were also more likely than women to think that technology will have a positive impact on their jobs and improve their employment prospects. They are also more likely to be learning new skills with 74 per cent of men reported doing so versus 66 per cent of women.
However, the region is falling behind in terms of learning opportunities: 23 per cent of those polled are learning new skills through their employer to better understand or use technology, compared to 33 per cent globally.
But nearly everyone surveyed in the GCC - 96 per cent - indicated a willingness to learn new skills now to improve their future employability.
"Upskilling is more than just training," said Mr Ashkar. "It’s about being equipped to participate and adapt in an increasingly digital world.”