The world has been going through a talent shortage the last few years, particularly in any role requiring technical skills. In the Middle East, the tech talent pool is even smaller, since a majority of Arab students who study abroad do not return to their home countries after the experience. This problem, known as “brain drain,” is causing a “skills crisis.”
Recently, Ayah Saasha — the Global Vice President of Societal Impact at Udacity — moderated a panel discussion focused on how to help fill in the talent gap with local job seekers in the Middle East. The discussion, titled Building a Future-Proof Talent Ecosystem in the Middle East, featured insight from leaders of the tech sector in the Middle East, including:
- Dr. Sonia Ben Jaafar, Abdullah Al Gurair Foundation
- Daria Shulepova, Partner and Head of Talent Acquisition, Growth Levers
- Dr. Ammar Alhuseinini, Deputy Director General, Central Agency for Information Technology (CAIT)
- Dr. Abdulrahman Habib, General Manager for Talent Development at SDAIA
Together, these four industry leaders provided insights on how to keep the talent pool deep in the Middle East. Keep reading for the top three takeaways from the Building a Future-Proof Talent Ecosystem in the Middle East panel discussion.
1. The Current Skill Gap is Slowing Economic Growth for Many Countries in the Middle East
While the skills gap is surely a global challenge, the problems are particularly painful in the Middle East. Compared to other countries, research and development spend is less than half a percent in the Middle East, compared to 3-5% in countries with top tech sectors. When spending on tech falls behind, so does the economic growth of the country.
In order to catch up with the rest of the world, the Middle East needs to identify key skill gaps that companies are looking for, then help the unemployed reskill or upskill to fill those roles. “We’ve landed in this place, where if we want economic growth and we want to move that sustainably forward,” Dr. Sonia Ben Jaafar said, “we have got to manage this particular situation in helping youth, work from anywhere, and manage to help them keep their skills sharp.”
2. Many Tech Roles Are Imported Because Local Talent Needs Reskilling and Upskilling
The local talent pool in the Middle East is shallower than most, partially due to “brain drain,” but also because at this point in time, up to 70% of tech hires are imported from other places and brought over to fill roles, according to Daria Shulepova. It’s an unfortunate, but hard truth. “The local talent,” Shulepova says, “is quite scarce. It needs to be developed. Companies that want to hire locally have to pay the top of the budget to be able to track this talent.” The easier solution is to hire from the global talent pool.
Dr. Sonia Ben Jaafar proposed that a solution to this problem is to become a connecting force between the industry that needs talent to hire, and the people who are unemployed and looking for work.
The youth, who are often accused of being lazy or unmotivated, have proven to be incredibly excited to have a boost in confidence they need and the ability to upskill to obtain the role of their dreams. “I find them to be incredibly motivated, very hungry, but just unable to figure out how to get there,” Dr. Jaafar says. “That’s what our programs have been able to help them do.”
3. Junior Talent Transformation is the Key to a Future-Proof Talent Ecosystem
If there’s one thing that everyone on the discussion panel agreed on, it’s that the youth are the future of a robust talent ecosystem. Dr. Sonia Ben Jaafar described a plan to form a system that both nurtures and supports, but also challenges and pushes students into being highly skilled, but also comfortable and confident in themselves.
“If we can start taking the goodwill of people and then making youth responsible for their own experiences, but supporting it as the same time, so creating a little bit of pressure but also creating a lot of support so that they get pushed, catapulted forward.”
Ideally, youth in the Middle East will become lifelong learners who strive to understand new concepts not just because it looks good on a resume or might land them a job, but because it really gets them to a new level of understanding technology as a whole.
Watch the Panel Discussion on Building a Future-Proof Talent Ecosystem in the Middle East
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