GCC’s transformation drive: digitalization to play crucial role

Fourth industrial revolution is here and technology has disrupted most of the industries in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region. Also, GCC economies are investing massively toward the digitalization.

Despite of the ongoing efforts at mega-scale, digital jobs account for only 1.7 percent of the total GCC workforce, compared to 5.4 percent in the EU. Not only this, GCC’s digital professionals’ skills are not aligned to the digital age requirements. This was revealed in a joint study conducted by the Ideation Center at Strategy&, part of the PwC network, together with LinkedIn.

Need for efficient initiatives

The study highlighted that to achieve their ambitious national plans, GCC countries must take leaps of efficiencies that are mainly enabled through digitization. To do so, they need to build an adaptable and skilled digital workforce.

According to the report titled ‘Empowering the GCC digital workforce: building adaptable skills in the digital era‘, the percentage of digital jobs within the total workforce is low in GCC countries compared to international benchmarks.

Plugging vulnerability

In fact, GCC nationals are mostly employed in sectors at risk of disruption by new digital technologies. To remedy this, GCC countries should undertake the large-scale creation of digital jobs — both within and outside the ICT sector.

“Our analysis mapped digital professionals on the LinkedIn platform to functions in digital-related industries. Only one of the ten skills that GCC digital professionals cited matched the fastest-growing skills globally on the LinkedIn platform. Although there is a regional trend towards more technical skills, these remain scarce for emerging technologies such as big data and analytics,” said Ali Matar, Head of LinkedIn Talent Solutions, for EMEA Emerging Markets, Middle East & Africa said.

The skills showing the highest growth among GCC digital professionals are focused on technology sales and distribution, whereas globally the most rapidly growing skills relate to product development. Such a mismatch between the regional digital job environment and that of our global peers has its roots in an underdeveloped digital job market.

Double-edged sword

The GCC digital job market faces challenges on both the supply and demand sides. From a supply perspective, the GCC education system does not keep up with technological changes or provide the adequate level of information, communication, and technology (ICT) education.

In fact, 93 percent of the region’s digital professionals on LinkedIn completed their university education abroad. Also, the professional development environment is inadequate. Due to the limited awareness of what digital careers offer, young students are reluctant to study in this field – GCC nationals tending to prefer more ‘stable’ jobs in traditional sectors.

In terms of demand, there are low levels of digitization in the region – for example, only 18 percent of companies use cloud computing – which restricts employment opportunities for digital professionals locally. The GCC’s ICT industry itself is also underdeveloped and focuses on technology consumption rather than production.

Huge benefits

Developing the digital workforce in the region offers significant benefits.

Melissa Rizk, fellow with the Ideation Center, Strategy& Middle East’s think tank, said: “Digital jobs are more adaptable in the face of technological disruption, and can support a more flexible working culture hence allowing for self-employment and remote work — a model that encourages greater participation by women and the inactive youth”.

In fact, an enhanced digital job market has the potential to create 1.3 million additional jobs in the GCC by 2025, including 700,000 in Saudi Arabia alone.

To create a skilled workforce, GCC countries will need to focus their efforts on building digital capabilities within academia by emphasizing a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) approach in schools and training teachers to use more digital tools in delivering their curriculum. Equally important is enhancing professional development opportunities, including post-graduate specializations and internships for digitally-inclined students, as well as company-led training programs. These will help digital professionals acquire the skills they need to increase their employability.