The Looming Talent Crisis in Middle East and North Africa

With the MENA region (Middle East and North Africa) economies embracing a more inclusive growth model post exiting the previous financial crisis, the issue of the requirement of a talented workforce to fuel this growth has arisen.

With a limited local population, expats have for long formed the backbone of the economy in this region. In United Arab Emirates (UAE) alone in 2013, the migrant population consisted of 7.8 million of a total population of 9.2 million. This means the country is fifth on the list of nations with the biggest population of migrants.

While the MENA countries have put in a lot of effort on education and training to bring to the required level the skills of the existing work-force, companies continue to rely on import of well-trained talent to meet their requirements.

This has been a source of great frustration to managers in the region, as they struggle to find the right framework to recruit, retain and manage human capital resources in the region.

In a study conducted by Oxford Economics, it was found that 43% of the interviewed employees in the region were worried they would not be able to keep up with the dynamic changes that their job profile could witness. This despite the fact that most of them admitted that they were being provided with opportunities to enhance their skill set.

Such a paradox might be due to the way companies map the progress of their employees. It was seen that only 21% of Emirati companies use quantifiable metrics and benchmarking for workforce development. Of that too, only 41% know how to extract meaningful insights from that data. This means that core efficiency is lacking in the entire process, leading to undesired results.

Of perhaps even more major concern is the lack of depth in leadership roles, of people who are expected to lead such changes.  Just 32% of Emirati executives interviewed in the aforementioned survey say their company plans for succession and continuity in key roles. Of these only 17% felt that talent available in leadership positions is sufficient to drive global growth.

These problems shall only be compounded in the coming years as managers shall be expected to manage a group of different skills, experiences and backgrounds, with freelancers likely to play a prominent part in projects. The question of whether companies in the region are ready to capitalize on these changes remains to be seen.

It is thus of paramount importance for companies to focus on knowledge and talent management, to bridge the gap with other competitive organizations. With a wide range of thriving industries, the working population in the region has great layers of potentially untapped knowledge and expertise. An efficient way to disseminate this knowledge among other working professionals in the region must be found.

To add to such a system of knowledge management, it is also essential that firms focus on an integrated approach to talent management. Just attracting the top minds for leadership positions is not enough. Instead continuity needs to be established in the organization, which can only happen if the right talent is put in the right places, across the hierarchy.

Having bounced back admirably from the 2008 financial crash, the world is now looking at the MENA region to power global growth in the coming decade. Having the right talent shall prove to be crucial for such a dream to turn into reality. However seeing how well the region’s top firms have responded to challenges in the past, it is only a matter of time before corporate find a way to tap the best available talent in the region, and train them to become leaders of future growth.

– Ayush Srivastava, PGP-2