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How GCC Countries Can Build A Talent Model For The Digital Age A new digital talent model is vital to digital economy growth. It will take years to build, but it is a process that must begin immediately to ensure future prosperity.

By Sergey Yakimenko

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

You're reading Entrepreneur Middle East, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.


This article was co-written with Sreedhar Gopalakrishnan Nair, Manager at Strategy& Middle East, part of the PwC network.

GCC countries need a new talent model to realize their ambitions to become leaders in the digital economy. There are ongoing efforts to deepen their digital talent pool, which is central to digital growth. GCC countries are also endowed with excellent digital infrastructure, and young populations with an appetite for technology and a familiarity with a digital lifestyle. However, the rapid growth of their digital activities demands a thorough revamp of the talent model.

A new digital talent model would provide GCC countries with the domestic and international professionals to accelerate digital transformation. Governments have an essential role to play in developing digital skills, and creating a new talent model. These experts would be masters of such disciplines as cloud engineering, data science, augmented reality/virtual reality, edge computing architecture, and software engineering. They would enable large enterprises to exploit digital opportunities and startups to scale, leading to growth in the digital economy.

Understanding where GCC countries stand helps identify where their effort should go. That requires baselining current capabilities along three dimensions: education ecosystem readiness to enable skills proficiency; labor market proficiency in terms of the availability of talent, intensity of research and software development, and the level of artificial intelligence (AI) development and deployment; the GCC's attractiveness as a talent hub.

GCC countries already demonstrate a commitment to education- Saudi Arabia's 2020 education spending was 7.8% of its gross domestic product (GDP), compared to a global average of 4.3% and an OECD average of 3.3%. The region possesses a strong endowment of basic digital infrastructure, with the world's seventh-highest internet penetration rate, and top levels of internet usage, and basic digital skills. However, there is room for improvement. GCC countries rank 43rd and 32nd in the availability and competence of AI engineers and software developers respectively, and 42nd globally for research and innovation.

Related: Building Talent Solutions To Attract, Retain, And Evolve: The How-To

Strategy& Middle East's Sreedhar Gopalakrishnan Nair and Sergey Yakimenko. Image courtesy Strategy& Middle East.

The digital talent plan has four elements. First, GCC countries should develop an ecosystem that encourages human capital as well as a strong learning culture. That means a national digital education framework that standardizes education requirements for digital jobs and skills for all digital economy priority areas. The framework should align with the digital economy's needs and contain appropriate testing guidelines and standards. Partnerships between education institutions and industry leaders help, as do links with private-sector academies to supply the lack of practical experience lacking in higher education. However, the effort should go beyond the government, with communities of experts and practitioners fostering interest in digital topics through hosting competitions, tech talk shows, and events in priority areas such as AI, cloud security, and robotics.

Second, GCC countries can improve labor market proficiency to meet short-term needs in areas such as AI, cloud computing, and software development. Governments can launch on-the-job learning to develop employee skills in priority areas. Additionally, governments can launch skilling programs that target the unemployed, those seeking to change careers, and those facing job loss due to technology developments. They can offer digital leadership training so that regional executives grasp the strategies of "digital native" companies, whether their ability to innovate new business models, design data-based go-to-market strategies, or seek digital revenue streams.

Third, GCC countries can enhance their global relevance as a talent destination. That requires engaging people in the short term to fill key roles, and in the long term, cultivating regional talent and returning experts to the region. Governments should select carefully the needed skillsets while building the domestic skills base. Attracting talent involves altering visa regulations, financial incentives, relocation, and lifestyle benefits, and encouraging flexible ways of working. Governments can also strengthen the region's research profile. Leading digital experts want to be where the latest advances are happening.

Fourth, the government must orchestrate many of these efforts, as it is the key enabler of the digital economy. The government can establish a dedicated organization to oversee digital human capital efforts, coordinating within government and with domestic and international stakeholders- Britain's Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, for example, develops the digital workforce. The government also needs a digital jobs taxonomy to understand the digital economy's boundaries and create accurate baselines. The dedicated organization drafts a frequently refreshed talent fulfillment strategy, and collaborates with policymakers to integrate the taxonomy into national employment strategies. The government uses the taxonomy to ensure all stakeholders play their role by engaging its ministries of education and labor, leaders of corporate human resources (HR), digital economy executives, public- and private-sector employers, education bodies, and organizations that evaluate education.

A new digital talent model is vital to digital economy growth. It will take years to build, but it is a process that must begin immediately to ensure future prosperity.

Related: Here Are The Tech Trends Reshaping The UAE's Recruitment Landscape In 2024

Sergey Yakimenko

Principal, Strategy& Middle East

Sergey Yakimenko is Principal at Strategy& Middle East, part of the PwC network. 
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