Only half of state-educated Qatari students say their schools and universities are providing them with the right skills and training for their chosen career, according to results from a new regional report.
There is a “fundamental misalignment” between the expectations of private sector businesses and students across the GCC, the report concluded, calling on schools, governments private companies and students themselves to work together to address the skills and information gap.
The study, How will the GCC close the skills gap, by international management consulting firm EY, found a disconnect between the skills employers in the private sector are looking for in their new recruits, and those possessed by nationals on leaving school and university.
The survey of private businesses and students across the region aimed to identify the major challenges that employers face in hiring and retaining nationals, as well as the attitudes of young people toward employment.
All GCC states have programs to encourage their nationals to consider jobs in the private sector or to set up their own companies. In this country, “Qatarization” policies impose quotas on large private firms to fill 20 percent of their positions with nationals.
But there’s been limited success in steering Gulf citizens towards the private sector across the GCC, including Qatar.
Private sector role
Some 70 percent of young Qataris prefer to work in the public sector, and only 23 percent said they would rather work in private business. This is one of the lowest in the region, just ahead of Kuwait where slightly more than one-fifth of young people said they would choose to work in the private sector.
In contrast, in Bahrain nearly two-thirds (60 percent) of respondents favored employment in a private business over the public sector.
Qataris have previously cited a perception that public-sector positions pay more as well as offer more favourable working hours and job security for preferring government positions.
And Qatar also has a problem when it comes to its efforts to encourage entrepreneurship. Just 11 percent of Qataris said they felt they were familiar with the legal and regulatory requirements to start their own business, which the report found was the lowest in the region.
While more than two-thirds of Bahrainis said they understood the rules, figures for the rest of the GCC states remained relatively low. Just one third (34 percent) of Emiratis said they knew them, while only 17 percent of Saudis did.
Overall, only 1 percent of Qatar’s private-sector workforce is made up of nationals, which along with the UAE, is the lowest figure in the Gulf.
The report’s authors said that as falling global oil price erode public revenues, the old system of relying on well-paid government jobs is unsustainable
“There is an urgent need to get more GCC nationals working in the private sector,” said Will Cooper, partner at EY.
He added that the solution lies in greater collaboration between businesses, government and schools and universities.
For example, private sector companies need to get more involved, offering more internships and training, and to work with educators to help design curricula that meets their needs, the report said.
Students in Qatar feel their education system is letting them down when it comes to properly equipping them with their right skills and training for their chosen career.
Some 58 percent of Qataris said they believed this, as did just over half (54 percent) of state-educated students in Qatar.
In comparison, 72 percent of students in Kuwait and 69 percent of Bahrainis felt adequately equipped for the wider work place.
Across the Gulf, fewer than half of all national students said they knew what particular qualifications they would need to work in their preferred industry. Qatar scored worst of all states in the region, with just 13 percent of students saying they understood what would be required of them.
The same percentage of Qatari students said they understood the application process for a job in their chosen field. Omani students fared a little better, with 39 percent of them admitting they understood the requirements, while in Saudi Arabia only 10 percent of students said they knew how the process worked.
Across the GCC, only 27 percent of private companies said they offered work placements, while in Qatar, just over one third (37 percent) of students said they had had work experience.
However, opportunities seem to be more available for Qatari women – nearly half (49 percent) of all those surveyed said they had been on work placement – the highest of all those in the region.
“As the region’s private sector diversifies, the current disconnect between the skills and knowledge employers need and what the education system delivers will become an even more pressing concern,” the report said.
Schools, colleges and universities also need provide more detailed and relevant information about careers, while governments must encourage a culture of employment, innovation and entrepreneurship, the report said.
“The Gulf region has recognized the importance of education and skills, and are investing heavily in schools, colleges and universities. However, there remains a fundamental misalignment of needs and expectations that makes it hard to improve outcomes,” Cooper said.
In order for governments to meet the targets of their ambitious national visions and for their economic diversification plans to be successful, there needs to be “much closer collaboration between all the players and concrete initiatives to ensure that the generation now coming through school is equipped and motivated to compete in the private sector,” he added.
A total of 1,030 GCC national students between the ages of 16 and 25 were interviewed during 2014 for the report, along with 101 large and medium-sized private sector employers.
You can download the full report here.