How should regional economies strive today to create the 'jobs of tomorrow'
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How should regional economies strive today to create the ‘jobs of tomorrow’

How should regional economies strive today to create the ‘jobs of tomorrow’

A region already suffering from chronic youth unemployment must innovate and train the next generation

Gulf Business

Wherever you are in the world, this is not a good time for job hunting.

According to the UN’s International Labour Organization (ILO) 255 million full-time jobs were lost during 2020, or “approximately four times greater than the number lost during the 2009 global financial crisis”.

A World Bank report says the global economy suffered its worst peacetime contraction since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Thankfully, the IMF forecasts 5.5 per cent global economic growth this year, though it also warns that these gains will widen the gap between advanced and underdeveloped countries, a gap that has widened during the Covid-19 pandemic, if we do not ensure that the recovery is shared by everyone.

This issue is particularly acute in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) where economies contracted 3.8 per cent in 2020 according to the IMF. The region already suffers from a 30 per cent youth unemployment rate – twice the global average, and the IMF warns that it risks another “lost decade” if governments fail to invest in technology and implement reforms to accelerate the recovery.

After the global financial crisis in 2008, the MENA took much longer than the average emerging economies to recover to regain previous levels of growth. And over a decade later, governments still face rising debts, a mismatch between the public and private sector and over reliance on declining oil revenues.

The question now for regional governments is how they avoid the mistakes of the past, and successfully create new opportunities for their people in the aftermath of the pandemic.

Time to innovate
All is not lost: The MENA youth unemployment rate is more than partly due to it having the world’s largest youth population – 200 million, constituting more than half the Arab world’s population.

This is a demographic comprised of digital natives, making it a vital source of human capital for the jobs of tomorrow, and the generation best able to cope with the wave of digital transformation, often described as the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

A recent World Economic Forum study predicted the disruption of 85 million jobs over the next five years due to automation, but also estimated that 97 million new roles will emerge – a stark warning as well as an historic opportunity for every nation.

The challenge now is to prepare workers for these changes, which Covid-19 has accelerated because it is forcing digitalisation and automation at a more rapid pace. This is a process that requires cooperation between all stakeholders. Governments, businesses, and educational institutions need to align on solutions to help retrain young people to harness their talents and present them with a path forward.

For this reason, I was heartened to see the recently announced ‘Thrive in Abu Dhabi’ initiative to attract more talented students and professionals to the city. The long-term visa options and additional incentives for sectors including financial services, ICT, health services and biopharma, Agtech, and tourism, will contribute to the development of the knowledge economy that will drive growth and serve as a template for the region.

Research grants from Ghadan 21, Abu Dhabi’s accelerator programme, along with the Department of Education and Knowledge (ADEK) to support R&D will further the links between business, government, and the education sector.

Economic argument
The UAE alone could generate an additional 43,000 jobs and $4.3bn in GDP by 2030 by closing the skills gap, according to a recent World Economic Forum report. More broadly, an accelerated scenario for the benefits of upskilling would add $6.5 trillion to global GDP by 2030.

So, as we look to the future, we are confident that a partnership between universities, business and governments will be the vital driver for MENA economies – and for providing solutions that will lead to a more sustainable future.

Our work is to foster this talent pool, providing the youth with the tools they need to reimagine our future.

Wifag Adnan is an assistant professor of Economics at NYU Abu Dhabi

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