The GCC region has a unique opportunity over the next decade to enhance its national skill competitiveness and direct the economy towards sustainable, long term growth.

The talent of young people, and the “youth bulge” in population they collectively represent, offers the greatest productive opportunity to the Arab World in the twenty – first century. However, having a young working age population is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for enhancing productive capacity required to drive economic growth. Their energy and aspirations need to be channeled in the right direction in terms of developing their skills and providing positive and productive work opportunities. To enable tomorrow’s talent to create economic success and drive sustainable growth, it is critical to ensure that the educational framework has all the key components in place to prepare the youth for compelling occupational demands and a competitive business environment.

Current trends indicate that employee engagement levels of youth in the region are amongst the lowest in the world. What further aggravates this issue is the low levels of preparedness, resilience, self-efficacy and optimism amongst youth in the GCC. Global studies on Education to Employment Gap indicates that key desired employability skills like teamwork, ethics, computer literacy, communication skills are clearly lacking amongst the young job seekers. Our own research in the region has revealed that strengths like buoyancy, resilience, self-efficacy, confidence, and flexibility are amongst the lowest in the GCC youth.

Youth also report a lack information and support when making educational (and career) choices. In a recent Mckinsey study on the growing gap between education and employment, fewer than half of the students surveyed were confident that they would study the same subject, if they were given a choice again. A minimal proportion were aware of the availability of jobs or the level of wages associated with their course of study. Many report that they need to wait 6 to 12 months to find employment and over 50% are unable to do so in their chosen area of study.

On the other hand, educators seem far more optimistic when asked to estimate the percentage of their graduates who found jobs. 74% of education providers estimated that their student found gainful employment, compared to the 54% of students who actually found jobs!

There is a glaring lack of consensus between various stakeholders on the future preparedness of students for the workplace is also alarming. Both employers and students believe that the educational system has not prepared them for the workplace whereas the views of educators are in total contrast.

The education to employment system fails for most employers and young people. What can key stakeholders like educational providers, policy makers, and employers do to create a stronger bridge between education and employment to support a successful next generation workforce?

1. Need for more awareness and higher prioritization in supporting employability by educators:

When asked to identify the priorities for educators, the results were telling: helping students find employment fell to the middle of the priority list coming in sixth out of ten issues, across the public and private providers. Today, in countries such as US, UK and Australia, teachers and parents are taking lead in character - building and imparting employability skills like teamwork, self-confidence, communication by incorporating them as a part of the curriculum. Fostering foundational workplace and life skills amongst our youth needs to be prioritized.


2. Taking on a fresh approach to career guidance:

At a macro level, educational choices and career decisions directly impact the economic engine and can have a disproportionate effect on aspects such as employment, underemployment, overall engagement and productivity. It is critical that we help match the key strengths and interest of young nationals and help them in making the right career choices.

3. Opening up opportunities for internships, apprenticeships and work-study programs:

Students and job seekers have an enormous seven in ten chance of being hired by the company they have interned with. There is a lack of internship and work-study opportunities in the region. These opportunities provide students gain the much needed exposure and experience that is strongly lacking within their formal education.


4. Promoting private sector as an employer:

With the increasing surge of youth expected to transition into education and then to employment, we are also witnessing a generational change, wherein if provided with right and timely guidance, more GCC nationals can be encouraged to join the private sector, which will reduce the current dependence on the public sector as an employer. Building more innovative, equitable and less hierarchical work cultures can enable private sector to attract, retain and engage a young workforce.

5. Leveraging technology:

With more and more youth relying social media and technology, this can be a great platform for organizations to leverage for more effective talent attraction, employer branding, social relationships and so on. It can not only help students match their work preferences and work styles and personal strengths to the organizational culture and employer brands of various organizations, but also help them identify an employer with whom they believe they can have a long and sustainable employment relationship. This would benefit both employers and job seekers in the long run.


We believe educators, employers and policy makers have a crucial and central role to play in facilitating, supporting and guiding the youth and building future employability of young nationals. Tremendous progress can be achieved in encouraging students to make the right educational choices and also finding appropriate employment. If the region’s continued economic development towards knowledge based economies is to be sustained, we need to focus our attention on investing in our psychological strengths and developing our human capital infrastructure to balance the fantastic advances in our physical infrastructure and urban built environment. That translates into delivering more effective and engaging education opportunities which are focused on enhancing employability amongst the younger generation.


About David Jones:

David Jones is the Managing Director of The Talent Enterprise. With a background in labor market economics, he has over 23 years of work experience spanning consulting and line HR in Europe & the Middle East. David has lived and worked in Dubai for over 17 years and is a senior adviser to policy-makers, business leaders and HR professionals on strategic human capital issues and challenges.

He is also the co-author of ‘Unlocking the Paradox of Plenty – A Review of the Talent Landscape in the GCC’. David was previously the Chief Consulting Officer with Aon Hewitt across MENA region and also has senior HR leadership roles with Emirates Airlines and Dubai Civil Aviation. He has extensive experience across multiple industries and is a lecturer at multiple universities. David can be contacted at


About Simran Bhatnagar:

Simran is the Consulting Manager at The Talent Enterprise. As a senior consultant, she works with clients across the MENA region on their strategic human capital priorities, including talent management and talent development with special focus on building the competitiveness of national talent. Her main focus in this role is project management, project delivery, solution development and execution.

Simran recently co-authored the ‘Game Changers’ report on the growing role of Saudi females in the kingdom’s formal labor market Prior to joining The Talent Enterprise, she was a senior consultant for Aon Hewitt Middle East & North Africa. She also worked with American Express and was a part of their Employee Engagement Team. Simran holds a Master’s degree with specialization in Human Resources and a Bachelor’s degree in Statistics from Delhi University.

Simran can be contacted at


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