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Thu 22 Jul 2010 11:05 AM

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Gulf business leaders fear 'lost generations'

EXCLUSIVE: Big names say education, bloated public sector is 'killing' countries.

Gulf business leaders fear 'lost generations'

Some of the Gulf’s most respected business leaders have expressed their deep concern over the region’s education system and the bloated public sector, according to research carried out by one of the world’s leading executive search firms.

Metin Mitchell, the regional managing director of Korn/Ferry International, revealed that some of the GCC’s most famous names – including Kingdom Holding chairman Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal and Alshaya chairman Mohammed Alshaya - fear that the Gulf could be hit by a series of "lost generations" that were essentially unemployable.

Among the other executives interviewed by Mitchell for the research were National Bank of Kuwait CEO Ibrahim Dabdoub, Lubna Olayan, CEO of Olayan Financing Company, Arabtec chairman Riad Kamal and Aramex founder Fadi Ghandour.

“If only it were one lost generation. Unless we fix the education system, we’re looking at two or three generations that could be lost,” Mitchell told Arabian Business.

“It is such a critical thing and it is not being addressed. People are very pleased about spending big bucks on fancy new universities, without having the quality in the primary and secondary education tiers, and without having a decent class of teachers.”

Mitchell said that the Gulf’s business leadership believed that local unemployment was likely to increase rather than decrease and would continue to do so until the education issue was addressed.

But the Korn/Ferry International director’s research also revealed that the lack of a work ethic and a bloated public sector were “killing” some of the Gulf countries.

“You can educate people, but you also have to show them that you have to struggle, you have to work your way up from the bottom. A lot of the talented people [Gulf nationals] go into either banking or family businesses,” Mitchell said.

He also indicated that a focus on team sports at school would help develop social skills and aid students’ progress towards the workforce.

“And on the public sector side, there are some well-known utilities in the Gulf which have a workforce of 24,000 employees, when they can actually be run on 8,000 employees,” Mitchell added.

“It is very debilitating for public sector business to carry more employees than it needs. It destroys morale, ambition and client service mentality, so that needs to change as well.”

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Ex-Expat 10 years ago

The great minds of the region had enough of the blabla and the big mouth talking and speak the truth: The lost generation of the region is the problem. Brought up in great wealth, pampered to the limit, high expectations without any effort, no contribution to the development of the country. With this nightmare in your own society you don't need an enemy!

Neville S 10 years ago

A nation's wealth is not its natural resources, it is the competence of its people. With all this money for the past 5 decades its mind boggling that so little has been achieved in developing skilled people in the Gulf. This crisis has to be fixed and soon, their are enough models that can be emulated, look at Singapore, Malaysia and any of the Asian tigers! These countries wasted no time or resources to ensure that their people have the competence to secure their futures for generations to come! The Gulf States need to do the same, they have no excuse.

James 10 years ago

We have a significant sized service company in Dubai and our customers, who are mostly large corporates and UAE government, are making suggestions that we should now bring on board some local nationals. We are certainly open to this, however all our research shows that once we take them on we have incredible difficulties in getting rid of them again if they turn out not to good performers. Obviously, for young locals to be employed in the private sector, it is essential that UAE (and other governments) allow companies the freedom to get rid of unsatisfactory local national staff, otherwise companies like ours will simply go on getting by without them, even though we would prefer to have some.

Paolo C 10 years ago

100% agree. Grow up your children spoiling them will bring them to misery. You don't have much time. Get ready to invest a great % of your GDP into education otherwise the region will be dead once the oil incomes are gone.

Ahmed Hasan 10 years ago

First off, let's start with the families, most families nowadays spoil their kids to the limit which results in a man/women that doesn't show much passion for a job because they know that in the end of the day his/her father will help them, most hardworking locals are from the low/middle class families which are small compared to the high class, I could estimate them to be like 30-40% these people are in constant threat of being unemployed that's why they work hard. We need enlightened locals who are open-mined to a certain degree, have a passion to work in a field they like not just get a job for a salary to buy their next Mercedes or depend on their parents help until they reach their 30's.

Ex-Expat 10 years ago

Sir, I hope you are somewhere in a position to make your voice be heard. A very wise comment!

kamal 10 years ago

Most of locals gear towards public sector positions for faster promotions, less working hours, and more holidays. The Govt always publish 2 holiday calendars one for the public sector and another for the private sector. Locals who work for international companies realize that their social or class mates working in the public sector have assumed very senior and leadership positions while those in the private sector are still climbing the corporate ladder as middle management. Incentives are too high for locals to join public sector. We will see a reversal of trend if a) the public sector becomes bloated and promotions slow down to its normal rate or even slower than the private sector b) the private sector starts offering more generous compensation than the public sector, and c) holidays and working hours of public and private sectors are equalized. Locals are not to be blamed for going after the public sector....They are well incentivized to do so. As it relates to education, most of the well to do Emiratis send their kids abroad for education. A college education qualifies a person to start a career, but not to be the CEO. The real education is on the job. If the expectation is that every local needs to be the chairman or a CEO of a company upon graduation or after few years from graduation, then the expectations are not realistic.

i-FUN (Intelligent Friends in the University Network) 10 years ago

Education maybe one factor for the lost genrations but most important of all is lost directions for the next generation where home takes a prominent plae in shaping values of hard work and capability for meeting new demands of the career.

cutter 10 years ago

I recently read an article stating that there are two types of people in the world: First there are those who live by their morals and look to better themselves and others by working hard to achieve. Then there are those who look at the rules and try and figure out how they can get around them. They look to better themselves on the backs of others. Leadership in the gulf is behaving as the latter and setting the example for the younger generations. If they don't change the course, this entitlement mentality is not going to change anytime soon.

Jumeirah Jon 10 years ago

I'm suprised it has taken so long for this to come out. I don't see any hope for the next generation. They have lived a sheltered life for far too long, there are far too few that know what it means to work hard for a living. Unforetunately that has rubbed off on the expat children too, with many of them finding it hard to adjust to life in their home countries. The government should do more to tackle this problem, but I fear that the current state of affairs will be allowed to continue for the sake of keeping the masses content.