Gulf oil producers were urged to reform their educational systems within a three-pronged strategy intended to bridge the gap between those systems and the labour market and ensure jobs for nationals.
The Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research (ECSSR), a think-tank, made the call at a conference on 'Education and the requirements of the GCC labour market'.
In another keynote speech at the opening of the ECSSR's three-day annual event, an US academic spoke of a "third industrial revolution" involving renewable energy and IT and called on world nations to adapt to the new realities of the age.
"The GCC countries need to draw up a three-tier strategy. The first tier is reforming or developing education in its different stages to guarantee graduates the necessary skills to operate in all jobs," said ECSSR Director-General Jamal Al Suwaidi. He said the second tier should involve stronger emphasis on programmes of rehabilitation and training in the fields of technical education and vocational training as well as increasing enrolment in tertiary education institutions that offer specialisation demanded by the labour market in the GCC.
"The third tier is involving the private sector in organising courses that are appropriate to the actual needs of the labour market, directing students to the specialisation that guarantee job opportunities and linking courses in community colleges, higher institutions of learning and scientific faculties of regional universities to the requirements of the labour market," he said. Suwaidi said failure to achieve a balance between education and the labour market in the GCC would block the achievement of "the kind of success in human capital investment that is consistent with our goals".
"This necessitates a comprehensive review of the strategies and policies pursued either in education or in the regulation of the GCC labour market," he added.
"There is a need to develop suitable economic structures in the GCC and tackle various socio-political problems. This is specially true of indigenisation – correcting the population imbalance and diversifying sources of income."
GCC countries are heavily reliant on foreign labour due to lack of skilled national manpower, relatively low number of nationals in some member states and the fact that nationals generally prefer the public sector for better financial benefits.
Figures distributed at the conference showed the six nations, sitting atop nearly 45 per cent of the world's recoverable oil deposits, employ more than 15 million expats.
In a recent study, the National Bank of Kuwait (NBK) warned the economic downturn spawned by the global fiscal turbulence could adversely affect job nationalisation programmes in the GCC.
It said the recent spate of workers' discharge in the private sector in the region would only increase the nationals' preference of the public sector.
The figures showed GCC nationals working in the public sector are estimated at nearly 58 per cent of total GCC citizens employed in 2007.
The ratio ranges between 50 per cent in Saudi Arabia and 84 per cent in Kuwait and almost 90 per cent in Qatar. The study said that most GCC governments have not taken any "solid market-oriented" measures to tackle this issue.
"It has become clear to most observers that we are approaching the late stages of the fossil-fuel era. But even as this second industrial revolution is entering into its end-game, a new, third industrial revolution is looming on the horizon – the coming together of the information and communication technology (ICT) revolution of the past two decades along with the renewable energy regime of the 21st century," said Jeremy Rifkin, President of the US Foundation on Economic Trends, at the conference.
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