How To Create 100 Million Jobs

Queen Rania of Jordan recently spoke about the 100 million jobs needed in the MENA region by 2020. Her words should have made everyone sit up and listen. No one knows with certainty the actual number – estimates vary between 60 million to 100+ million. What matters is the number is really big.

Job creation is one of the biggest, often forgotten challenges, in one of the world’s most exciting and fast growing regions faces. It’s easy to get caught up in the meteoric progress the region has made since the discovery of oil and the aim is not to detract from what has been achieved.

The thing about job creation is that it’s not easy. It takes time. It requires broad changes across many areas of the existing political, social and economic cultures. It’s not fun and exciting, and the results are not as obvious as building the world’s tallest buildings, biggest airlines, best emerging financial and trade centres, and most modern cities.

However, given the size of the opportunity, it simply can’t be ignored. The aim here is to draw attention to the challenges that lie ahead, explore how to approach the challenges and overcome them in practical terms. Ultimately the aim is to highlight just how big the opportunity is to overcome and how important it is that the region succeeds.

The Potential

Youth make up approximately 40% of the MENA population. With the rise and ubiquity of digital technology coinciding with the growth of this portion of the population, in the near future, MENA could have one of the most capable digitally-native workforces in the world. As more and more of the world’s economy heads online and the populations of the other major global economies age, knowledge and creativity rather than oil will emerge as MENA’s biggest export.

Knowledge-based occupations have the highest rate of return not only in terms of direct value but also the exponential value created from “spin-out” innovation. Knowledge economies create valuable new industries and solve important social and environmental challenges. They’re great for job creation, and for maintaining and growing happy, economically productive societies.

We have seen evidence of the benefits of this in countries such as Qatar and the UAE. Both have developed economic resilience and growth through the increase of innovation and knowledge-based economic activity. These economies have been sheltered to some extent from the fall in oil prices in recent times. These early signs of success should be seen as just the start of the journey toward fully realising the opportunity.

But…more work needs to be done.

The Challenge

Unfortunately, like climate change, the size of the job-creation challenge makes it too big to imagine or understand. It demands some hard decisions and change unless we really have to, humans don’t like making these. In a nod to Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth”, has job creation and the changes that come with it become MENA’s own inconvenient truth?

The World Bank highlighted in the early 1990’s the need for the region to “claim its future” and ensure sufficient investment is made into employment, social and cultural reform. Although the demographic potential of the region has been known for sometime and substantial progress has been made, has enough been done to ensure the region will prosper on the strength of its human capital given the size of the opportunity?

Nationalization of the private sector and everything that comes with it – innovation, education, professional and career development, social and family reform, reduced reliance on foreign-workers – is one of a number of forerunning policies driving the job-creation and economic diversity movements in many countries across the region. With saturated public sectors combined with pressure to reduce public sector spending due to long-term forecasts of low oil prices, the private sector is the only place where new sustainable and growth-based jobs will be created.

Despite this recognition and what has been invested in Nationalization since the mid-90s, things have progressed slowly. Nationalization is as low as 0.65% in some countries and unemployment higher than 30%. Most concerning is 79% of youth think the biggest challenge facing their generation is finding a job. Greater clarity, consistency and engagement on job creation, nationalization and related topics is needed if further progress is to be made.

Like climate change, the problem with Nationalization and job creation are that few negative effects are evident yet or are too small and isolated. For the majority, particularly in the oil-rich Gulf States, life is good. People are being asked to care about something that isn’t hurting them yet or ever.  The trouble is, one day, things will almost certainly reach a tipping point – by then, making hard decisions and creating effective change may be too little, too late.

How To Get There

Acknowledge The Challenges – Acknowledging what stands in the way of success is half the battle. The region must learn to identify and accept when things aren’t working well so that a new direction can be set and resources can be applied more effectively. With complex systems like job creation and Nationalization, not every decision and investment will be correct. That’s OK so long as there is a commitment to learn from them.

Understand Scope – Countries must focus not on creating just any jobs but knowledge-based jobs if it is to truly capitalise on the potential. The region must go further again and prepare the next generation of job seekers with the right skills so they can step into the new economy and help shape it. Both sides of the labour market need care, love and attention in order to succeed.

Invest Now – In practice, the cultural transformation required to unlock Nationalization and job creation is not easy. Investing heavily into transformation activities is expensive. The benefits are uncertain and the pay-back long-term. Irrespective of this, it needs to be done if the population boom is to be harnessed.

Increase Awareness – More needs to be done to raise the awareness of the opportunity and the challenges that need to be overcome. Too many people do not understand just how important Nationalization and job creation is to the long-term health of the region. By raising awareness and promoting practical and economically rationale steps to engage with the challenge, people can be empowered to make a difference.

Support Cultural Transformation – A level of cultural transformation is needed if the areas that require attention are to receive the necessary investment and focus. Nationalization and job creation are systemic challenges. In order to progress them, many different aspects of the region’s political, social and business system need to be examined. What is needed is reframing the way we look at old issues or opportunities, seeing them in a new light and engaging with them in agile, open and pragmatic ways.

Engage In Key Focus Areas – There are a number of areas that demand attention as they form part of the system that effects Nationalization and job creation. It is possible to make progress by working on each of these areas in isolation but like in any complex system, they are intimately interconnected.

  • Cultural Transitions in Life and Work – Help young people navigate the transitions into the complex multicultural domains of the modern workplace. Focus particularly on line-manager relationships, team dynamics and soft-skills resilience building. Exposure and experience to a range of cultures, both in formal and informal settings, helps develop confidence and the skills needed to succeed.
  • Political Alignment on Nationalization and Related Areas – Government must ensure it invests resources into programs that are effective and be bold in stopping those that are not. Governments have the mandate to facilitate and escalate the discussion and treatment various areas that need attention receive. Coordinating stakeholders, removing duplication and inconsistency, and directing resources in an agile way is the key role governments must play.
  • Social and Community Engagement – The community and families must be made aware of and understand the importance of its role in supporting young people into jobs that support long-term job creation and economic prosperity. This includes recognising the value of taking short-term pay/benefits decreases in order to secure long-term career value.
  • Education – Over 73% of graduates across the region want to start their own businesses. Education needs to be arming youth with the skills to leverage technology, and develop the resilience and agility to succeed in business and work in a global online economy.
  • Post-Education: Workplace Readiness and Strategic Career Support – Preparing for the practicalities of life in work requires workplace experience, mentorship and guidance. Making the right long-term choice when choosing a job is much easier when youth understand where they are going, how to get there, and what value they are unlocking.
  • Recruitment and Professional Development – The next generation of workers demand connection and engagement. Finding great talent in the vast ocean of talent means being genuine, transparent about the value of a job to the recruit and the company, and providing graduated professional development opportunities that are unlocked through loyalty. 95% of local talent leave the private sector within the first 12 months of employment because they are not getting the value they thought they signed up for.
  • Women At Work – Women represent a huge part of the opportunity and more needs to be done to support them into the world of work.  Leveraging technology, sponsorship programs, assuaging family concerns, and being more flexible are ways the private sector could unlock a huge amount of “hidden” well-educated and highly skilled talent.
  • Private Sector Participation – The private sector stands to gain significantly from increased Nationalization and job creation. From thriving and stable economies to the advantage that comes with local insight and connections, the private sector needs to do some hard thinking and engage properly with the opportunity. The investment and cost/benefit analysis stacks What it will take is a fresh approach and reframing of the challenges and opportunities. Strategic human resource innovation is required.
  • Private Sector Innovation and Growth – Big businesses create the majority of jobs in economies, not start-ups. The role for start-ups is to create the big businesses as explained below. In a recent study, it was shown that 10% of businesses older than 5 years created 80% of the jobs. In a world of increasing disruption – 75% of business on the S&P 500 Index (America’s top 500 publicly-traded companies) will no longer be on the list in 2027 – the goal is to help big businesses continue to grow and not fail.
  • Entrepreneurship and Business Incubation – A healthy start-up and innovation ecosystem is an essential part of the business growth funnel. The more start-ups there are, the greater the odds of growing big businesses that create the majority of the jobs. Start-ups are also great at exponential innovation, creating quantum leaps that result in new industries emerging.


The Approach – Key Attributes

It’s all well and good knowing what to do and where to do it, but if the approach is wrong, the region will never get where it needs to go. How stakeholders approach the nationalization and job creation opportunity will determine how successful the region is in realising the 100 Million Opportunities it has.

Outlined below are a number of key characteristics that define the approach and mind-set stakeholders need when thinking about and taking action on Nationalization and job creation.

  • Humility, trust and open collaboration
  • Bold and fearless leadership
  • Clear, compelling and consistent vision and purpose
  • A willingness to try new things, fail and act – everyone must be open to and accept that small and frequent failures are part of the journey toward success
  • Create value in an agile way – prioritise creating incremental value rather than value at some point in the future
  • Give permission and support small communities, businesses and individuals to work toward the vision

To learn more about the key attributes of transformation, view our Agile Transformation Model.

A big prize awaits the region if it can claim its future, capitalise on the richness of its youth, embrace nationalization and transform the way it thinks about job creation.

Next Steps

This post is an excerpt from “100 Million Opportunities“, a practical guide that expands on the ideas and concepts outlined above. It is based on the work, research and observations of Emarise, a Nationalization research and advisory group based in the UAE. The aim of the guide is to answer the hard questions communities, leaders, HR professionals, expats and job seekers in the public and private sectors face when tackling life and business in the region.

To learn more about each of the key areas of focus, the unique challenges and opportunities and the practical steps that need to be taken by the key stakeholders in-order to succeed, register your interest in 100 Million Opportunities – A Practical Guide To Job Creation and Nationalization presented by