Youth unemployment rates are a source of real concern in the UAE as lack of jobs leads to economic, political and social instability. With the UAE poised to transition to a knowledge economy, it’s important to inspire entrepreneurship as small businesses are the driving force of innovation, economic productivity and job creation. But what will it take to instil entrepreneurial spirit in today’s youth?
Youth unemployment rates in the MENA region are the highest in the world. With more than half the region’s population under 25 years old and 27.2% of them unemployed in the Middle East, the World Economic Forum (WEF) reports that the UAE will need to create 75 million jobs by 2020 just to keep unemployment rates from growing even further.
This issue is often referred to as the “youth liability” when in fact; this population has the potential to become the “youth advantage” for the UAE.
Leaders have been working hard to inspire entrepreneurship in the UAE with many government initiatives, from the establishment of The Innovation Hub and the Khalifa Fund to the Mohammed Bin Rashid Establishment for SME Development and licensing reforms.
One important initiative is the World Economic Forum’s New Vision for Arab Employment. The first phase of this initiative entailed bringing together leaders from all sectors to analyse the core causes of youth unemployment in GCC countries.
In the report “Rethinking Arab Employment: A Systemic Approach for Resource-Endowed Economies”, the authors explain that the protective, parental role that the government has played in terms of the national population has created systems and institutions that work against entrepreneurship. The government has also acted as a protective role model for teachers and parents, so that everyone acts to overprotect, overly support and arrange easy and secure outcomes for Arab youth.
The young are groomed to take on government positions that are well-paid and require little personal accountability. Government subsidies make unemployment often preferable to low-paying positions. The educational system is not geared to create independent thinking, critical or creative thinking, or teach problem-solving, management skills and other functional skills needed in the private sector.
The WEF authors write: “The education system and public employment incentive schemes do not prepare national young people for a private sector driven by competition and flexibility. In addition, they tend to have little contact with private sector activities and role models growing up, and are often unaware of opportunities offered by private companies.”
Overprotective parents, teachers and governments create a sense of entitlement in Arab youth, along with dependence, lack of motivation and responsibility, and little desire to take risks.
The public sector is over-saturated as such grooming only sets youth up for failure. It is every parent’s job to let their children learn, fail, discover opportunities and explore their potential. The huge youth population represents a great pool of talent for helping the UAE transition to a knowledge economy but educational and private/public sector policy changes aren’t enough.
As educational reforms become more successful, properly trained and talented Arabs will need private sector positions.
The point isn’t to train just the young to become entrepreneurs and wait for them to build businesses and create jobs. Arab adults now must adopt an entrepreneurial spirit and role model successful entrepreneurship in the private sector.
Any parent knows that “Do as I say, not as I do” never works with the young. It is the parents themselves, the mature Arabs, the people that have been in the working world and have the experience and capital and learning that must contribute to the cultural change needed in the UAE by opening up businesses. This is the best legacy that anyone can leave for Arab youth: a lead-by-example step into the future.