The world today is changing at an unprecedented pace, brought about by a whole set of intertwined, large-scale trends, which include demographic changes, shifts in global economic power, natural resource consumption patterns and rapid urbanisation, among others. But by far the most dramatic changes are happening in the fields of technology, digitisation and science, where both the rate of change itself, and overall disruption, are exponential.
Technological progress has typically led to improvements in productivity through, for instance, automation of repetitive tasks. Technology advances have resulted in either drastic reduction or full elimination of jobs that are no longer needed (from copyists replaced by the printing press back in the mid-to-late 1400’s, to call-center customer service representatives replaced by AI-powered bots in the 21st century). New jobs are being created at an incredible pace, to the point that, by some estimates, two-thirds of the jobs our kids are likely to have in the future do not yet exist.
The nature of work is changing, and our workforce around the world needs to change and adapt to these new demands and opportunities. Digital upskilling is a hot subject now, whether you are just joining the workforce or have plenty of professional experience. As people’s life expectancy grows (babies born today are expected to live until the 2130s), a greater portion of the workforce will find it’s no longer sustainable to retire at 65, opening up new opportunities for work and skills learning much later in one’s life.
What does this mean for the future of work? What measures should we as workers of the future take to future-proof our jobs and our skills? How can companies unleash great performance taking into account all the challenges mentioned above?
This report builds on various PwC global surveys including Preparing for tomorrow’s workforce, today*. In particular, it builds on the Future of the Workforce study released in late 2018. This Middle East edition of the study examines the findings of that report and delves into further analysis in the Middle East, and how this region compares to global averages. What are the things that are important to us in the region? Do we have similar or different levels of readiness when it comes to confronting workforce challenges in the future?
As part of this study we have interviewed a number of CHRO’s and HR Directors across the region, in an effort to make the insights and recommendations more grounded on the reality we live in. We found that, by their own admission, leaders are not doing enough to develop these capabilities. This gap, we believe, will put them at risk in the future when it comes to attracting, developing and retaining talent. The action imperatives we identify to bridge this ‘at risk’ gap go beyond simply upskilling for technological change.
We also interviewed a number of educators in order to ensure the perspective of the education sector is included alongside that of industry. These contributors were able to provide insights into why the regional survey results are as they are, based on observations of the current position of universities and attitude of students. The overarching trend was that there is great potential from partnerships between educators and employers but more must be done in this area.
In many ways, the Middle East is broadly in line with global trends, but in terms of how ready businesses are for change, we lag behind the rest of the world, and that puts us at greater risk. We have a young, tech-savvy workforce, and unemployment is generally low by global standards. That said, in many organisations, there are outdated management styles which are not suited to the more automated workplaces and changing roles of workers now being introduced.
Some of our findings may confirm commonly held views about attitudes and risks for business in the region, but some present surprises. Certainly, they provide valuable new insights to help us prepare for the workforce of the future.
In our global survey, we asked more than 1,200 business and HR leaders in 79 countries to gauge the importance of 45 organisational capabilities and their organisational readiness - we look at the findings of leaders across 9 countries in the Middle East.
We highly value, develop and reward ‘human’ skills such as leadership, creativity, empathy and curiosity
We are an organisation that’s trusted by society, our customers and our employees
We have initiatives and policies in place that are successful in ensuring positive physical and mental wellbeing among our workers
Our working environments are designed to encourage teamwork, collaboration and innovation
We’re identifying and building the future skills created by the impact of technology
Our sourcing and talent management strategies recognise the need to compete in a global talent market
We have a robust virtual social platform and/or cloud technology that enables collaboration between employees
We ensure fair pay by creating transparency in how remuneration is determined
We encourage and reward employees for building networks and relationships outside of their function and organisation
Our talent practices and processes (e.g. rotations, secondments, learning and development opportunities, etc.) are designed to nurture employee agility and adaptability
Employers in the Middle East are implementing positive initiatives to prepare for the workforce of the future, but overall they need to do more, and in some areas a lot more. This report has shown that risk factors in the region are generally above the global average, because organisations here are just not prepared for what’s coming. Our recommendations throughout this report point to ways to prepare you for the rapidly changing workforce of the future.
Two of the recurring themes which emerge from the research are nationalisation and the concept of the ‘digital nomad’. While ultimately good for the region, nationalisation, the move to replace expat employees with homegrown talent, presents a short-term challenge on several fronts because companies have historically relied on expertise from abroad. The research finds employers will still need to bring in specialist skills, but they must be smarter about developing the right skills at home.
The idea of the ‘digital nomad’ crops up repeatedly too – those workers who use technology to work from anywhere, without the need to be based in an office. Some of the Middle East’s traditional management practices needto adapt to accommodate these new, flexible ways of working. Our recommendations can be looked at from the perspective of business leaders, HR, educators, and employees themselves: