Industry Thought Leadership

GCC National Transformation Plans Will be Enabled by a Skilled and Adaptable Digital Workforce

September, 2017
Samer Bohsali

Strategy& (formerly Booz & Company), part of the PwC network

A joint study conducted by the Ideation Center at Strategy&, part of the PwC network, together with LinkedIn has highlighted that to achieve their ambitious national plans, GCC countries must take leaps of efficiencies that are mainly enabled through digitization. To do so, they need to build an adaptable and skilled digital workforce.

According to the report titled “Empowering the GCC digital workforce: Building adaptable skills in the digital era”, the percentage of digital jobs within the total workforce is low in GCC countries compared to international benchmarks. Currently, digital jobs account for only 1.7% of the total GCC workforce, compared to 5.4% of the total EU’s workforce being employed in similar roles. In fact, GCC nationals are mostly employed in sectors at risk of disruption by new digital technologies. To remedy this, GCC countries should undertake the large-scale creation of digital jobs — both within and outside the ICT sector.

Commenting on the research, Ali Matar, Head of LinkedIn Talent Solutions, for EMEA Emerging Markets, Middle East & Africa said: “Our analysis mapped digital professionals on the LinkedIn platform to functions in digital-related industries. Only one of the ten skills that GCC digital professionals cited matched the fastest-growing skills globally on the LinkedIn platform. Although there is a regional trend towards more technical skills, these remain scarce for emerging technologies such as big data and analytics”.

The skills showing the highest growth among GCC digital professionals are focused on technology sales and distribution, whereas globally the most rapidly growing skills relate to product development. Such a mismatch between the regional digital job environment and that of our global peers has its roots in an underdeveloped digital job market.

The GCC digital job market faces challenges on both the supply and demand sides. From a supply perspective, the GCC education system does not keep up with technological changes or provide the adequate level of information, communication, and technology (ICT) education. In fact, 93% of the region’s digital professionals on LinkedIn completed their university education abroad. Also, the professional development environment is inadequate. Due to the limited awareness of what digital careers offer, young students are reluctant to study in this field – GCC nationals tending to prefer more ‘stable’ jobs in traditional sectors.

In terms of demand, there are low levels of digitization in the region – for example, only 18% of companies use cloud computing – which restricts employment opportunities for digital professionals locally. The GCC’s ICT industry itself is also underdeveloped and focuses on technology consumption rather than production.

Developing the digital workforce in the region offers significant benefits. Melissa Rizk, fellow with the Ideation Center, Strategy& Middle East’s think tank, said: “Digital jobs are more adaptable in the face of technological disruption, and can support a more flexible working culture hence allowing for self-employment and remote work — a model that encourages greater participation by women and the inactive youth”. In fact, an enhanced digital job market has the potential to create 1.3 million additional jobs in the GCC by 2025, including 700,000 in Saudi Arabia alone.

To create a skilled workforce, GCC countries will need to focus their efforts on building digital capabilities within academia by emphasizing a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) approach in schools and training teachers to use more digital tools in delivering their curriculum. Equally important is enhancing professional development opportunities, including post-graduate specializations and internships for digitally-inclined students, as well as company-led training programs. These will help digital professionals acquire the skills they need to increase their employability.

Furthermore, GCC nationals should be motivated, starting at a young age, to explore digital careers – this could be achieved through awareness campaigns in schools and universities, as well as competitions, hackathons, and boot camps.

To increase the demand for these jobs, GCC countries should push for greater digitization, the aim being to drive organizations to leverage more emerging technologies and adopt digital strategies to transform their business models. Stimulating innovation and production in the digital economy must also be a priority, and can be encouraged by making the region an appealing environment for ICT companies to thrive in. The region also needs to review its entire approach towards startups and ensure digital entrepreneurship can flourish and attract more skilled professionals.

Samer Bohsali, Partner with Strategy& and the leader of the firm’s Digital Business and Technology practice and the digitization platform in the Middle East, concluded: “GCC governments need to continuously reskill their workforce to embrace the latest technologies. The digital sector tends to change rapidly because of continuously emerging new technologies that redefine the way business is done, which is less often the case in traditional jobs. Creating a digital workforce of continuous learners is key to drive the success of national transformation plans”.

To learn more about the report please visit:

Other findings of the report include:

  • Taking inputs from World Economic Forum’s report - ‘The Future of Jobs’, the report by LinkedIn and Strategy& have concurred that a very high percentage of GCC nationals are now employed in sectors which are at high risk of disruption by new digital technologies; particularly jobs in professional services and public administration.
  • If, by 2025, the region reaches the same proportion of digital employment that the EU has today, then approximately 1.3 million new jobs, could be created.
  • Self-employment throughout the developed world is on the increase, propelled by a digital age which gives people more ability to design the rhythm and schedule of their working lives.
  • There are some 3.9 million inactive women and male youth in the GCC, some of whom could benefit from digital self-employment.
  • The digital skills most highly prized by employers in all sectors such as statistical analysis and data mining, Algorithm design, website architecture are almost absent among GCC digital professionals.
  • Most young people have a preference for traditional public sector employment in their country because it offers them job security and high pay. Indeed, according to a 2016 survey, more than two thirds (70 percent) of GCC youth prefer public sector jobs over private sector employment.