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Arab countries struggle to get talented nationals into work force

The UAE came 19th in the global survey of 118 states

Image Credit: AP
Attendees gather in the main hall of the World Economic Forum, at the King Hussain Bin Talal Convention Centre, at the Dead Sea, Jordan, on Saturday.
Gulf News

Arab countries all lag behind their peers around the world in getting the talents of their people into the work force. Three major reasons are the dominance of the public sector, the short comings of the private sector and a state-centred paradigm of development that has relied on oil revenue, foreign aid or remittances.

Middle East must address labour markets and education issues

The fact these problems affect Arab states including both Gulf as well as the Levant and Maghreb is one surprising finding of the third annual edition of the Mena Talent Competitiveness Index by INSEAD and the Centre for Economic Growth, supported by Google, that was published at the World Economic Forum’s Dead Sea meeting on the Middle East.

The survey monitors national economies by grading their ability to enable, attract, grow and retain talent in their economies, which covers the “input” side of the equation, but the survey also measures the “output” side by measuring the availability of vocational skills specific to industries and the availability of more general softer skills in the economies.


The UAE was the top Arab state in the Competitiveness Index, and the UAE came 19th in the global survey of 118 states. Qatar was the second Arab state and was 21st in the global survey. These two states were well above the rest of the Arab states, with Saudi Arabia third (42nd in the global survey), Bahrain, Kuwait, Jordan and Oman following in that order.

The UAE scored very well in the ability to enable, attract and retain talent in which measures it was ranked well into the top 20 in the world, but it suffered from much lower rankings in its ability to grow talent, in which it was 40th in the world. An INSEAD commentator told Gulf News that this ranking indicates a deep problem of a structural dependency on imported skills, which is inhibiting the country’s ability to grow its own skills base.

That said, the survey is designed to identify gaps and offer examples of successful national that have done better in that area. It points out that the UAE’s lower success in growing talent might be improved by the country emulating the experience of the Netherlands that is very good at developing its own talent. And its lack of vocational talent could be helped by the best practices in states like the US, Britain and Singapore.

Consortium approach to training

One of the actionable recommendations in the Competitiveness Index to improve the situation is for countries to create more private-public-people partnerships in which a consortium approach to training can mix online learning, teacher instruction, and on-the-job learning, and INSEAD added that this also applies to increasing the amount of lifelong learning as workforces need to reskill themselves continuously.

Ensuring the strong uptake of technology and digitalisation was another recommendation where the Index suggested close collaboration between government agencies, business and consumers to bring on new technologies as long as they have clear objectives and accountability for their digitisation targets.