by Bader Al-Asaker, secretary-general, MiSK Foundation, Saudi Arabia
We are living in age of disruption and globalisation. Technology is changing the way we live and work, while the growth of global trade and international brands is impacting the opportunity to create jobs for the future.
The challenge facing many fast-growth and emerging market economies, therefore, is how to capitalise on their young and growing populations to create meaningful jobs which add value and drive economic growth and development.
Nowhere is this challenge more acute than in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Two-thirds of Saudi Arabia’s population, for example, under 29 years old. In Jordan, the figure is an astonishing 70 percent according to the OECD. As a result, the MENA region needs to create 100 million jobs in the next decade to simply absorb the growing population says the World Bank. Yet, even in fast-growing and emerging market economies, employers are reporting a gap between the talent they need and that which is actually available on the market.
In short, economic growth and job creation are being impacted by the paradox of both an unemployment challenge and a skills crisis as firms struggle to recruit trained, role-specific talent.
Such an imbalance can be crippling to economic progress. It puts a strain on governments to provide support, perpetuating a vicious cycle of long-term unemployment and stagnation, constraining the ability of nations to grow and innovate.
Action must be taken to not only develop government policies which are inclusive of youth, but also implement programmes which deliver real, tangible results to give them the skills they need for the jobs of tomorrow in an increasingly automated and technology driven workplace.
The onus for change should not be solely the responsibility of government. In Europe, for example, multi-stakeholder public-private partnerships are tackling the lack of information and communication technology (ICT) skills. At the launch of the initiative by the European Commission in June 2013, a number of organisations made pledges to help provide a Europe-wide pathway to training and certification.
A 2014 report by International Data Corporation (IDC) suggests that there is a pressing need for such a pathway in the Middle East with the skills gap set to widen as demand for third platform technologies – mobile computing, social media and analytics, cloud computing and big data – rises and the supply of local skills lags.
Saudi Arabia is taking positive action to diffuse this imbalance. Among the targets set out in Vison 2030 by HRH Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is a plan to have at least five Saudi universities among the top 200 in international rankings by 2030, with the Kingdom developing modern curricula focused on rigorous standards in literacy, numeracy, skills and character development.
Simultaneously, Saudi Arabia is also focusing on the development of youth-led NGOs. The MiSK Foundation, for example, is working to hasten the shift to a knowledge-based economy by promoting practical schemes to support young people in developing the right entrepreneurial and cognitive skills.
One example of a MiSK Initiative programme which has delivered real impact is a hackathon; the most recent ran over 48 hours and was focused on developing solutions to healthcare issues through applied technology. The winning team developed a groundbreaking application to match blood donors with recipients, a LinkedIn for blood donations. MiSK is also working with organisations like Udacity, Google, Boston Consulting Group and Harvard to provide not only technology skills, but also critical thinking skills and professional development training.
As countries like Saudi Arabia strive to bridge the gaps between jobs, skills and access to talent, it is vital that the public and private sectors work together with civil society to ensure young people are empowered and equipped to pursue higher education, build companies, create wealth and contribute to future development. This is why it is important that the Saudi capital, Riyadh, is hosting this week (3rd and 4th May, 2017) the seventh edition of the International Forum of NGOs, bringing together more than 400 global NGOs in official partnership with UNESCO, as well as more than 1,600 youth representatives and experts under one roof.
Intended as a platform to co-create initiatives and select ideas to enable the full engagement of young people within their societies and allow them to become the change-makers of tomorrow, it promises to be a landmark event for the global development of youth-focused NGOs and for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as it continues on its path of ambitious reform.