As an integral part of its practical and action-oriented application, the World Economic Forum’s Global Challenge Initiative on Employment, Skills and Human Capital is deploying a number of regionally focused collaboration projects, reflecting on how emerging economies may tackle the challenge of closing skills gaps and providing job opportunities to their fast-growing young population. By tailoring and applying insights and recommendations developed at the global level, these projects support efforts to improve the state of employment, skills and human capital in local and regional contexts. Furthermore, they serve as an invaluable source of bottom-up evidence and learnings that can be elevated and shared to foster crossregional learnings and global adaptation. Currently, the Forum is focusing on three such projects: the New Vision for Arab Employment, described in more detail below, the Africa Skills Initiative and the India Skills Initiative.
THE NEW VISION FOR ARAB EMPLOYMENT
The New Vision for Arab Employment serves as a platform for driving action and partnerships through nationally and regionally focused projects that promote collaboration and partnership between local and multinational businesses as well as governments and the education and training sector. Working in close collaboration with key business, public sector and civil society leaders, the initiative rallies key regional actors through calls-to-action and pilots best practices to effect change. It also aims at identifying key cross-cutting areas of intervention that will help address employment, skills and human capital gaps for the 21st century.
Phase 1: Understanding the regional context
Talent is one of the most critical factors for an economy’s innovative capacity and growth prospects. With more than half of its population under 25 years of age and the world’s highest youth unemployment rate, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region faces critical challenges. Concurrently, business leaders report difficulties in filling roles. In particular, persistently high youth unemployment rates in the Gulf Cooperation Council countries demonstrate that addressing youth unemployment effectively requires more than budgetary capacity and economic growth. Launched in 2013, the aim of the first phase of the initiative was to better understand how to turn this youthful populace into a youth dividend and implement best practices of interventions to inverse the critical trend of youth unemployment. For example, the Forum’s Human Capital Index showed that despite significant investment in education by many countries, the region is not equipping youth with skills for the 21st century. Out of the 124 economies covered by the Index in 2015, only two from the region—the United Arab Emirates (54) and Qatar (56)—made it into the upper half of the rankings. Kuwait (93) and Saudi Arabia (85), whose GDP per capita is at least fivefold higher, performed at a comparable level to Morocco (95) and Egypt (84), respectively, highlighting that economic performance alone is an inadequate measure of countries’ abilities to successfully leverage their human capital endowment. In addition, it was found that the region runs the risk of worsening unemployment and talent shortages if skills gaps are exacerbated due to technological changes that further disrupt business models and labour markets.
Phase 2: Commitments to affect change in the region
Recognizing that longer term reform by the public sector must be complemented by the active collaboration of the private sector, the Forum’s Regional Business Council for MENA launched a second phase of the initiative in 2015, aiming to invest in the continuous learning, reskilling, upskilling and job readiness of 100,000 of the region’s youth by 2017. To date over 10 partners have made specific commitments to address the jobs and skills challenge in the region aimed at reducing unemployment, tackling skills gaps or facilitating talent flows through initiatives implemented directly by each company in collaboration with other stakeholders. Each commitment sets a target to achieve its outcomes against a specific set of metrics within a period of two years and meets the following criteria: • Extends beyond the pledging organization’s internal HR programme • Consists of a new initiative or the additional scaling up of an existing initiative • Contributes to the public good by creating added value for society and economy • Ideally, aligns with the organization’s core business strategy • Is a multistakeholder commitment, led by the partner In addition to a set of founding pledges that impacted nearly 50,000 youth, the initiative has engaged others to join forces in order to reach—or surpass—the goal of 100,000. The pledge model also serves as a platform for continued learning and collaboration between businesses seeking to address the region’s talent value chain and as a hub for exchange with governments, civil society organizations and experts.
Phase 3: The Future of Jobs and public-private dialogue
Recognizing that current company-specific efforts must be supplemented with systemic change, the leaders of the Forum’s Regional Business Council and others are engaging in a new phase of the initiative, which will directly build on the insights provided by the Future of Jobs Insight Report. It is expected that the Future of Jobs work will force a more precise dialogue to strengthen the existing framework of collaboration for business leaders and provide new data and analysis for better-informed decision-making in the future with a view to enhancing talent pipelines and increasing competitiveness in the region. In particular, leaders in the region are keen to understand what skills should constitute the core of education in the future and what reforms the private sector, particularly within key industries, can initiate in a dialogue with the public and education sectors to leapfrog towards a more resilient and efficient learning and skills value chain. Furthermore, as disruptive change is expected to spread across the globe, what will be the impact in the region and how will the actors in the region prepare for this evolution? New industries and business models will emerge, new talent will be required and so this future-oriented body of work will be a critical tool to broaden the space for solutions to allow both existing and new industry sectors to thrive and support the region’s overall development.