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Building tomorrow’s workforce: Six no-regrets plays to make today

Middle East Future of Work and Skills Survey - December 2021

The challenges that leaders face today are more significant and complex than they’ve been in generations.

Accelerating the workplace’s digital journey carries tremendous execution risk. And people want and need more support and inspiration from their employers. Burnout has become its own epidemic, now recognised by the World Health Organization as an official disease. Weary, anxious workers are resigning from their jobs in record numbers around the world. Businesses, governments, and society will pay a great price if they are not prepared to adapt and capitalise on new opportunities powered by technology and innovation.

For organisations to thrive, they need to access their people’s full potential to develop and execute new, dynamic strategies. In our 2021 Future of Work and Skills Survey, conducted in September 2021, nearly 4,000 business and human resources (HR) leaders were surveyed globally, including over 300 across the Middle East (UAE, KSA, Qatar, Egypt) who collectively identified six ‘no-regrets moves’ as important to their workforce strategy—and agreed that they are taking action. But when given a choice to agree ‘slightly’, ‘moderately’ or ‘strongly’, only 20% to 30% globally agreed strongly that they are acting today. That range was slightly better for the Middle East, as 30% to 40% of leaders agreed strongly that they are acting today.

Globally, across all six broad no-regrets categories, the three specific actions that leaders in our survey were most likely to say were important but that they were not acting on are all related to digitisation or automation.

Middle East Leaders will need to help to change cultures that will shape their people’s behaviours, they must put actions behind their words on issues such as well-being and diversity, equity, and inclusion targets.

In the Middle East:

46%
of organisations felt that ability to adjust the workforce in response to market changes is very important
UAE
44%
KSA
46%
Egypt
58%
Qatar
24%
35%
strongly agreed to being able to do so


UAE
22%
KSA
35%
Egypt
43%
Qatar
31%

41%
of organisations believed that use of insights from Big Data and advanced analytics in workforce decision-making is very important
UAE
28%
KSA
42%
Egypt
53%
Qatar
29%
29%
strongly agreed to being able to do that


UAE
24%
KSA
32%
Egypt
33%
Qatar
22%

Leadership and organisational culture are certainly linked. For leaders to make progress on their digital agenda and address urgent challenges, they will have to change their own behaviour and their people’s. Leaders will need to lean into data and become more aware of how it can be used to support future decision making around investments. They’ll need to help shape their people’s behaviours by modelling changes in how work gets done and by putting actions behind their words on issues such as well-being and diversity, equity, and inclusion targets. Leaders will also have to invest in new cloud technologies, automation and data models that fuel outcomes-based decision-making and meaningful returns on investment will also be a differentiating factor for leaders.

Let’s further explore the six no-regrets moves that leaders should make to prepare for the future of work.

The six no-regrets moves leaders in the region should make to prepare for the future of work

1. Anticipate and plan for the future


  • 38% of Middle East Leaders strongly agreed to developing strategic, financial and people plans in a joined up manner.


  • Only 29% strongly agreed that they are using a wide variety of external data sources and viewpoints when considering their workforce strategy.


  • 36% cited cost pressures as the key barrier to taking a scenario-based approach to plan for multiple possible futures, while 36% cited factors outside their control as the main blocker in enabling them to rapidly adjust their workforce in response to market changes.


Takeaway: Use data to plan deliberately

Planning is more important—and more difficult—than ever, as organisations face an increasingly uncertain future. Leveraging insights from Big Data and advanced analytics is one reliable approach for leaders to prepare for the future. Further investing and building senior leadership capability in planning in the new world will also be instrumental in adapting dynamic planning by organisations in the Middle East.

2. Build talent development and upskilling programmes fit for the organisation


  • Only 26% strongly agreed they use workforce analytics to predict and monitor skill gaps.


  • Of the 9 risk areas related to building talent development and upskilling programmes fit for the organisation, the biggest was: ‘the ability to identify the skills the organisation will need in the future due to technological change’. Only 26% strongly agreed they do this.


  • Lack of senior leadership capability, cost pressures, and organisation’s culture are the biggest hurdles limiting the ability to identify skills needed in the future (due to technological change).


Takeaway: Embed an upskilling culture and embrace technological change

42% of respondents cited ‘encouraging re-skilling and continuous learning to help workers remain employable’ as very important. At PwC Middle East, we are also on our upskilling journey, digitally upskilling 7,000 of our people by providing opportunities to build a more diverse and tech-skilled workforce. 

Leaders will have to embed this within their organisational DNA and assure workers that upskilling is a part of their growth journey and not only a means to remain relevant. Building leadership capabilities to enable organisational wide upskilling is crucial and this should not be considered as only a Human Resources’ obligation.

Leaders will also need to implement systems and technology that enables them to use workforce analytics to predict and monitor skill gaps. This will help in gaining employees’ trust as well as in identifying and addressing the most crucial skill gaps.

3. Create organisational agility and resilience via the workforce


  • Only 24% strongly agreed their talent practices and processes are designed to nurture employee agility and adaptability.


  • Of 10 risk areas related to creating organisational agility and resilience via the workforce, the biggest was: 'Identifying the potential organisational risks caused by decisions to replace human work with technology’. Only 25% strongly agreed they do this.


  • Lack of senior leadership capability and organisational culture were cited as the biggest blockers to designing talent practices and processes to nurture employee agility and adaptability.


Takeaways: Re-design talent practices and processes to nurture employee ability and agility

Not only are most organisations unable to design talent practices and processes to nurture employee agility and adaptability, but this was also cited as the least important dimension in our survey (with only 31% stating this is very important). Leaders will need to investigate the root causes for this issue and identify best practices across other leading organisations and tailor their talent practices and processes accordingly.

Replacing human work with technology is the reality that organisations across the globe are facing. Consequent anxiety and fears, from employees affected across levels, pose potential risks to organisations. Leadership will play a significant role in effectively communicating and smoothly navigating through this inevitable transition. 64% of our survey respondents cited that identification of the potential risks is moderately to very important to the future of their organisation.

4. Optimise workforce productivity and performance


  • Only 32% strongly agreed that they can measure productivity and performance at an individual level (vs 25% of global respondents).


  • Only 28% strongly agreed that they give workers a high degree of autonomy in how they organise their work.


  • Of 12 risk areas related to optimising workforce productivity and performance in the organisation, the biggest was: ‘Providing for physical working environments and technology that enable all workers to perform at their best’. Only 33% strongly agreed they do this.


Takeaway: Provide enablers and offer increased autonomy to the workforce

80% of blockers in providing physical environments and technology that enables all workers to perform at their best, are under the organisation’s control. Leaders need to step up by focusing on improving systems and data and minimising competing investments or priorities. 

40% of our respondents believe that giving workers a high degree of autonomy in how they organise their work is very important. Additionally, 40% believe it’s equally as important for their employees' wellbeing to have a manageable workload that allows them to switch off in the evenings and weekends.

Going forward, leaders must embed these elements as part of their organisational culture, in addition to offering flexibility. This will ensure increased work performance and productivity in addition to a more manageable work life balance in the future.

5. Prepare for and deploy technology with humans in mind


  • Only 29% strongly agreed their workforce and technology strategies make the best use of human skills.


  • Being able to communicate clearly and consistently to the organisation’s employees about the expected impacts of automation and AI on future skill needs, was the biggest risk cited by respondents.


  • 25% cited concerns around the potential consequences of taking action as the biggest hurdle to harnessing worker ideas to improve, implement or adopt new technology.


Takeaway: Be transparent and supportive

The best way to continue rolling out new technology solutions is with transparency and providing support to your employees. Communication can even be personalised based on workforce segmentation. Different stakeholder personas, needs, and preferences should be considered in messaging. 

In our most recent Hopes and Fears survey, 63% of GCC respondents believe that technology presents greater opportunities than risks. Digital should be embedded as part of the culture of the organisation and how it conducts its business. Co-creation of technology solutions is also critical. This means engaging with employees, making them comfortable with being part of the solution, even looking for automation opportunities to implement the best ideas, even from the most junior members.

6. Build trust in the organisation


  • While only 30% of global respondents strongly agreed that their organisation builds high levels of trust between workers and their direct supervisors, we saw this increase to 36% in the Middle East. That said most organisations still have a long way ahead to attain the desired trust levels and clearly need to prioritise this goal.


  • Only 29% of Middle East respondents strongly agreed that their organisation publicly sets targets to close gaps in workforce diversity and in diversity pay; but this is higher than the 26% of global respondents who strongly agreed.


  • Of 11 risk areas related to building trust in the organisation, the biggest was: ‘Making environmental issues a strategic priority and part of the organisation’s wider business management planning’. Only 31% strongly agreed they do this.


Takeaways: Build diverse workforces with a focus on environmental issues

Globally skills gaps are ever-increasing and only a few countries have managed to effectively align skills and innovation policies. Most countries could not only lose out on the potential opportunity for growth, but also expose large segments of their workforces to job losses.

The economic case for upskilling is compelling. An upskilled human capital delivers improved productivity and innovation. Upskilling also creates a more flexible and adaptable workforce with the necessary skills to survive, and indeed, thrive in a highly digitised and environmentally-conscious world. Most importantly, enhanced access to training and learning opportunities can deliver tremendous social benefits - from improving individual wellbeing and health to reducing crime rates and creating stronger societies.

Looking forward...

As organisations accelerate their digital journeys and prepare for the future of work, they’ll need to focus on their people by building trust in the organisation and enhancing leadership’ capabilities. Our survey results show that people want to work for employers that show they care. They also want the organisations they work for to live up to their purpose, values, and culture. Most importantly, building trust will enable leaders to deliver sustained outcomes for their organisations.

Governments should look to promote skill-centric visions for the economy to successfully navigate global megatrends and create more sustainable and inclusive societies, while ensuring good quality jobs for future generations.

About the survey

In September 2021, PwC commissioned a global survey of 3,937 business executives and HR-focused leaders. The survey polled leaders in 26 countries and regions and 28 industries, with over 300 respondents participating from across the Middle East (UAE, KSA, Qatar, Egypt).

Contact us

Hani Ashkar

Hani Ashkar

Middle East Senior Partner, PwC Middle East

Tel: +971 4 304 3100

Randa Bahsoun

Randa Bahsoun

Partner, Government & Public Sector and New world. New skills. Leader, PwC Middle East

Tel: +971 4 304 3487

Donia Aqel

Donia Aqel

Director, Government & Public Sector and New world. New skills. Driver, PwC Middle East

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