The journey towards MENA’s future jobs: a train wreck or a gentle stroll?

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The battle between old and new is fierce. Ride hailing apps versus yellow cabs, telcos versus VoIPs, Youtube versus TVs. But the future is fiercer.

Driverless cars, holograms and virtual reality are no longer science fiction, they’re real and they’re just about to either escort us to our doom or open doors unthought of.

In an attempt to evaluate the two options, the World Economic Forum released a report last week - The future of jobs and skills in the MENA: Preparing the region for the fourth industrial revolution.  

The report highlights the readiness of Arab countries to endorse the changes induced by the fourth industrial revolution through measuring the markets’ susceptibility to automation as well as the region’s resources that could be used to adapt to the change.

(Source: WEF)

It turns out that the region could be divided into four groups; firstly countries that are highly exposed to change but also have high capability to adapt such as Jordan and Tunisia, secondly countries that are highly exposed but unable to adapt, Turkey is an example, and those who are not very exposed but highly adapted such as the GCC, and finally countries that are at lower risk of exposure and adapt poorly.

The fourth revolution refers to the technological and economic change in which the physical, digital and biological worlds fuse to create an unprecedented system that is reliant on concepts relating to artificial intelligence (AI), data science, 3D printing and virtual reality.

MENA’s future in numbers

In response to the change, five million jobs worldwide are expected to be lost by 2020. Therefore, the concern about innovation leading to even higher rates of unemployment which is already skyrocketing in the MENA at a percentage of 31 percent, is pressing and valid.

However, the future according to Saadia Zahidi one of the report’s authors, is not necessarily grim. While many lower and medium skill positions will be threatened by automation, in turn new vacancies will be catalyzed, she told Wamda.  

In this respect, the report shows that with more efficient matching between talent and jobs and with new digital opportunities offered through such platforms, there could be as much as 945,000 additional full-time equivalent jobs and a $21 billion  increase in GDP in Egypt by 2025, as well as 799,000 jobs and $41 billion in Turkey, and 276,000 jobs and $32 billion additional GDP in Saudi Arabia.

Skilling it right

To ensure a smooth transition from jobs going extinct to newly propagated ones, strategic upskilling and reskilling is needed. By 2020, 21 percent of core skills in the countries of the GCC and 41 percent of those in Turkey will be different compared to skills that were needed in 2015.

Making the most of talent. Source: WEF

“It’s not only about the need of an increased use of digital tools,” Zahidi told Wamda. “There will be an increased demand for deep specialized knowledge in STEM and ICT which used to be limited to ICT, manufacturing and construction sectors, but will be needed in many other sectors, including professional services, healthcare and education,” she continued.

To further understand the particular skills needed we can look at the main technological drivers leading the change. According to the report those include new energy, mobile and cloud technologies, big data, and AI.

An overview of the emerging professions in the MENA could also hint at where the region’s labor market could be going. Linkedin data shows that professions witnessing greatest growth in the region between 2011 and 2016 included ‘entrepreneur’ at a 37 percent growth, followed by ‘program analyst’, and ‘quality assurance tester’.  

A window of opportunity

What is comforting about the region is that the change seems to be approaching fairly slow in comparison to Europe and the US. This is mostly because wages in the MENA are lower and so the incentive to automate is not very present. However it’s not going to be very much slower because most business will eventually need to automate if they want to remain competitive.

In reference to the advantage of delayed change Zahidi said that the MENA already has very high unemployment problems and poor education systems, and “so managing a wave of technological change in addition to this will be difficult unless there is urgent reform today".

According to Zahidi some economists believe that the Fourth Industrial Revolution is more challenging than its predecessors because unlike in the past, it cuts across many different sectors at once. On the other hand, others expect it to be less challenging exactly for the same reason; they believe that the new technologies also offer solutions across multiple sectors.

Either way, we should be vigilant and proactive warns Zahidi. “The next big change still requires new strategies and implementation of new policies and partnerships. I don’t think we can just hope that adaptation will come naturally,” she said.

Feature image via Pexels.

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