This article was originally published in The National News.


Samar Sayegh, PwC Partner and PwC's Academy Middle East Leader

As the global economy grapples with skills and labour shortages, including here in the Middle East, skills that empower transformation strategies are being prioritised. The future of work is rapidly changing, driven largely by digitisation and decarbonisation, and there is a consensus that now, more than ever, we cannot afford to slow down. What skills we choose to prioritise, value and invest in will be paramount to how well businesses, economies and societies thrive. 

Equipping the workforce for an unknown future is a challenge that has not only fallen at the doorstep of businesses, but governments, too. As Middle East economies vie to become global leaders across multiple industries, developing local talent has become as much a part of their strategies as attracting global talent.To achieve both, upskilling in its entirety needs to be embedded in the public and private sector, working in tandem to uphold high global standards of learning and development.

The Middle East economy is primed for rapid expansion in the short term but governments and the private sector need to ensure that long-term strategy doesn’t fall by the wayside. Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 and the UAE’s Vision 2031 both outline their aims of creating a globally competitive workforce – with upskilling being the key driver for their transformation agendas, as well as developing a sustainable platform for nationalisation to take hold. The workforce is geared for change. In fact, workers in the Middle East, much more than their global counterparts, seek upskilling as the means to enhance their readiness for the future, according to the PwC Middle East Workforce Hopes and Fears Survey 2023.

With visionary governments empowering the initiative, it is now on businesses to implement the framework on a wider scale. Organisations need to be asking the question: what skills will bring value now and in 10 years? This not only future-proofs the business, but also highlights to employees that their development is part of the organisation’s long-term strategy.

Ensuring employee satisfaction is as important as ever, as businesses continue to battle the “Great Resignation”. According to the PwC survey, 39 per cent of respondents in the Middle East expressed a higher likelihood of switching employers in 2023, compared with 30 per cent last year. Upskilling may provide a safety blanket of sorts for businesses but it isn’t just a tool for attracting and retaining talent. It is an opportunity to develop employees, through expansive, rounded learning, which in turn promotes long-term business growth and innovation. In an age when information is readily available and resources abundant, the value of learning has evolved to become more than what you know and, instead, how you apply it.

Harnessing the skills trifecta – digital, technical and human – equips the workforce with the right knowledge and mindset for future-proofing themselves and enables them to transform their workplace. Undoubtedly digital literacy is necessary but its value is diminished if not underpinned by human skills. Analytical thinking, innovation, active learning, critical thinking, leadership and resilience are a few of the many human skills becoming increasingly sought after by organisations, in addition to the calling for the more tangible functional and tech-based skill sets.

Organisations that encourage a culture of upskilling and create internal policies and frameworks that enable them to be effective will not only attract and retain talent, but also improve productivity and efficiency within the workforce. For employees, embracing it increases their value and opens up a new horizon of opportunities. When done right, it can be one of the greatest drivers of growth at scale for both business and people.

For organisations to adopt a true learning culture, they need to first understand what skill sets and competencies exist and create development journeys for each individual. It is also important to understand personal learning preferences and embrace them – whether that’s micro-learning, hybrid learning, classroom-based or gamification, for example.

An upskilling strategy in your business is not optional or a nice to have, it is a strategic enabler for long-term growth and business leaders need to treat it as such. To use it as a future-proofing tool, you must remain cognisant of the fundamental skills that underpin every workplace. Upskilling is so much more than a quick fix to plug a skills gap – it is a scalable, sustainable solution to revolutionise change but it requires strategy, investment and patience.

About the author 
Samar Sayegh is a PwC partner and PwC’s Academy Middle East leader. With over 22 years of experience in driving transformation, talent development, and building organisational capabilities at scale, Samar leads the Academy’s efforts towards sustainable growth of talent across the region, aligning with the region’s nationalisation agendas, global megatrends, transformation agendas, and digital evolution. Samar is a recognised expert in driving the workforce transformation agenda. She established the Saudi business of PwC’s Academy in 2014, and leads the regional Academy — the largest within the global PwC network. She has worked extensively with global clients and across the Middle East on learning strategy formulation, executive coaching and talent development, succession planning, transformational leadership, and digital learning solutions.

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