KUWAIT CITY, Feb 8: As part of the World Economic Forum that took place in Davos, Switzerland last month, which revolved around the theme of “The Fourth Industrial Revolution”, Omar Kutayba Alghanim, Chief Executive Officer of Alghanim Industries and Chairman of Gulf Bank, participated in several meetings and panel discussions in which he concentrated on two key topics: the future of jobs, and gender equality in the workplace.
A press conference regarding the future of jobs was held, with a distinguished panel that included: Omar Alghanim; Saadiya Zahidi, Head of Employment and Gender Diversity at the World Economic Forum; Vishal Sikka, Chief Executive Officer of Infosys; Jeffrey Joerres, Executive Chairman Emeritus of Manpower Group. The main question posed at the conference was, “How will the Fourth Industrial Revolution affect employment, education, and skills?”
The future of jobs
Stressing the importance of putting the future of jobs in the spotlight at the World Economic Forum, Omar K. Alghanim said, “We have much more data and computing power than any generation before us, and in the years ahead, computers will play a central role in every aspect of our lives. In essence, it means that the world is changing fast. That we have a responsibility like never before to prepare younger generations for that world, and that our ambition of creating the jobs of the future will grow in complexity with every passing year. According to the International Labor Organization, roughly two in five young people around the world are either unemployed or are working but living in poverty. As a citizen of the Gulf, I know the scale of the challenges we face. Statistics show that to meet local employment demands, the Middle East and North Africa region will have to create 80 million new jobs over the next two decades.”
Saadia Zahidi also commented on the topic, saying: “Our research for the World Economic Forum Future of Jobs Report didn’t just focus on technological factors, it also looked at geopolitical factors as well as socioeconomic factors because they all play into and effect each other. Through working on this report, we found that these factors will change the current business models, creating a storm in the job market during the next 5 years. We also found that job gains in the short term won’t be enough to offset the job losses, as there could be up to 5 million job losses. In the long term, there will be more opportunities, but that will require restructuring the educational systems. The skills needed today will not be so in the future, and that requires employees to keep learning and improving their skillsets, to meet the requirements of the future jobs. Therefore, businesses and governments must put in place reskilling and up-skilling mechanisms in the short term, including fundamental reforms to education systems.”
Restructuring education systems
Agreeing with Saadia about the need to fix education systems, Vishal Sikka said: “We have to prepare our kids for the world of tomorrow. Not the way the world used to be, but the way the world is going to be. We can create access by providing better connectivity and matching the supply and demand in a better way. We also need to create a culture of creativity and imagination because mechanical jobs will be done by artificial intelligence systems, so people need to be taught innovation at a larger scale. This should be done through a public-private partnership where companies who have abilities for big scale solutions and the resources to do so, work with public organizations that have the purpose and knowhow outside the context of day to day business.”
Jeffery Joerres noted the importance of avoiding the job crisis through the implementation of methods on a local level rather than attempting to copy solutions from one country to another. Further commenting on the subject, he said: “There is going to be a longer gap between when somebody loses their job and when somebody regains their job than in previous kinds of revolutions. This will put tremendous stress on individuals, society, and businesses. A sense of urgency has to exist to create action at the local level, rather than taking it on from a larger scale. The transition gap could be dangerous because people get out of the flow of work, and if you’re not in the flow at the current rate of change, it’s really hard to get back in.”
Speaking specifically about the MENA region, Omar K. Alghanim said, “We’ve learned that there’s no silver bullet for solving youth unemployment. It requires a long-term solution: a combination of education, vocational training, effective career advice, and a buoyant private sector, among other things. In MENA, for example, we need to create the right education system which gives our young people the skills and critical thinking to become entrepreneurs. INJAZ, an organization I’m proud to support, is a great example of an NGO of doing exactly that.”
It is worth mentioning that the World Economic Forum’s Regional Business Council for MENA, which was chaired by Alghanim at the time, invited business leaders and organizations to join a collaborative effort of making 100,000 youth job-ready by 2017. This pledge was made as part of the New Vision for Arab Employment Initiative. During the press conference, Omar K. Alghanim announced that members of the Regional Business Council were able to exceed this target and expect to make further progress over the course of the upcoming year.
Alghanim reiterated the importance of not overlooking the work environment, about which he said: “Part of this is about creating a benign environment. For example, the people we spoke to in the MENA region as part of a recent survey told us that the number one barrier people face in starting a new business isn’t lack of finance or opportunity, it’s government regulation.
It’s also about mindset. That same survey found that, even if guaranteed success, more than 40 percent of respondents with advanced degrees said they would start a retail company, a cafe, or a real estate company. Only 6 percent said they would start an information technology company. I don’t want to deride these choices – we applaud all business startups – but restaurants, retail and real estate alone won’t deliver regional economic success. That’s why it’s essential that we also design educational systems which encourage critical thinking, creativity and entrepreneurship.”
Alghanim also added: “Another key barrier to job creation in the MENA region is gender inequality. Achieving gender parity will make the world a richer place, in many different ways, for everyone. IMF statistics suggest that the Middle East gender gap is three times bigger than in most developing economies. The same statistics suggest that if the gap was narrowed by just one-third, regional GDP would grow by $1 trillion a year, or 6 percent. At my company, Alghanim Industries, we have a Diversity and Inclusion Steering Committee that focuses specifically on these sorts of issues. To make our culture more appealing to women, we have increased our maternity leave benefits. And we are changing our recruitment policies to encourage the hiring and retaining of more women. The plain fact is that creating a MENA economy of the future will depend on bringing women into the workforce, and I look forward to hearing about the efforts of others in the region.”