Mena school
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Statistics about the future of work can be scary. Automation, digitisation, and other forms of technology threaten to wipe out millions of jobs.

The skills that fuel so many jobs today will be rendered obsolete by what’s called the Fourth Industrial Revolution, or Industry 4.0 for short. That’s particularly frightening in the Middle East and North Africa, where youth unemployment already hovers around 75 per cent.

The ability of the global workforce to handle this dramatic change is worrying. The only way forward is to courageously invest in better education and skills training.

According to a recent report by Deloitte and the Global Business Coalition for Education, employers of the future will be hungry for workers who possess four basic types of skills.

Workforce readiness

Technical expertise is certainly part of this mix, but so are soft skills like creativity, problem solving, and emotional intelligence that will prepare people for the unknown future of work.

The basics of workforce readiness — things like time management and personal presentation — will remain critical. And there will be a greater emphasis on entrepreneurship as the growing gig economy pays higher dividends to workers who are innovative and take initiative.

These skills are increasingly important but in short supply. A new study shows that by 2030, only 46 per cent of the 102 million children who live in the Mena (Middle East and North Africa) region will be on track to complete secondary school and learn basic secondary skills.

One in four school-aged kids around the world is trapped in wars or natural disasters and the consequences are devastating. Before the conflict in Syria, the country had universal enrolment and 95 per cent literacy rates. Now only about half of Syrian refugee children attend school. But despite these urgent needs, humanitarian aid that goes to education accounts for only 2 per cent.

- Dr. Tariq Al Gurg, CEO of Dubai Cares

Secondary school learning levels are set to remain stagnant at around 40 per cent in Lebanon and Jordan, and they will be much lower in war-torn Yemen and Syria. There’s a chronic mismatch in Mena and beyond between what employers need and what workers have to offer.

Education has the power to correct this mismatch. Sustainable Development Goal 4 — ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education — is not an arbitrary goal. It is key to ensuring that children and young people around the world are not just in school, but learning the right skills to prepare them for Industry 4.0.

Right now, we’re not investing enough and that could have serious consequences, including increasing income inequality and unemployment. More people could become dependent on government assistance or move across borders as masses of economic migrants. These developments would further strain public finances and create or deepen political instability. These are costs that governments, businesses, and everyday people cannot bear.

A much wiser investment — with infinitely better Return on Investment (ROI) — is getting all young people the skills they need to participate in the modern economy. One of the biggest barriers to achieving this goal is a lack of education financing. Even if developing countries do their best to grow domestic resources and donor countries increase aid for education, there will still be a glaring gap in financing. We need breakthrough solutions to unleash significant funding.

Education Cannot Wait

One solution is called Education Cannot Wait. This is a new fund to provide education for the world’s most vulnerable children in emergencies. One in four school-aged kids around the world is trapped in wars or natural disasters and the consequences are devastating. Before the conflict in Syria, the country had universal enrolment and 95 per cent literacy rates. Now only about half of Syrian refugee children attend school. But despite these urgent needs, humanitarian aid that goes to education accounts for only 2 per cent. Education Cannot Wait is determined to not only increase funding, but to also improve coordination and prioritisation of education in disaster response.

The second solution, called the International Finance Facility for Education, promises to be the biggest single education investment in history. The facility could enable 200 million more children to get in school and learning. Working with banks, it will use donor guarantees and grants to generate enough new funding — an additional $5 billion-$10 billion (Dh18 billion-Dh36 billion) starting in 2020 — to make quality education possible for children across the world.

Both of these important initiatives require funding to get off the ground and have real impact. Next week, global leaders will have the opportunity to pledge this funding — a down payment on the $2 billion in grants and guarantees needed for the facility and $1.8 billion for Education Cannot Wait — at the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Donor countries can make a strong statement in support of the world’s children.

Time to take action is now. Industry 4.0 will not wait.

— Dr. Tariq Al Gurg is the CEO of Dubai Cares and a former senior manager at Emirates NBD. He is a member of the Global Business Coalition for Education and a supporter of the #WriteTheWrong campaign.