New and YouGov survey sheds light on the skills gap crisis in the Middle East
May 9th, 2016, YouGov

New and YouGov survey sheds light on the skills gap crisis in the Middle East

Just under two-thirds of employers in the Middle East claim it is difficult to find candidates with creative thinking, critical thinking and problem-solving skills

The Skills Gap in the Middle East and North Africa survey, conducted by YouGov and, explores the skills employers are looking for across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), comparing them to skills in supply. The study covers aspects such as availability of new talent, what positions organizations are hiring for, which skills they rate as most important during recruitment, and which skills new talent lack most.

Across the MENA region, just over half (56%) of employers surveyed felt comfortable their company has sufficient skilled employees to achieve this year’s goals. Meanwhile, over 1 in every 4 (28%) were unsure, while 16% felt their company does not have sufficient skilled employees to meet their goals.

Skills demand in MENA: What are employers looking for?

Among employers looking to hire in MENA, the highest demand can be seen for entry-level positions (junior executives and executives, at 52% and 30%, respectively). A healthy 10% of employers surveyed are currently searching for director-level candidates. While GCC employers show a greater need for senior executives, coordinators, and managers, the high demand for entry-level positions was largely consistent across the region.

As for specific job roles, sales positions are the most in demand (20% of employers say they’re looking for “Sales Executives” and 16% say they’re looking for “Sales Managers”). Other popular positions companies are looking to fill are: project managers (15%); engineers (14% mechanical and 13% electrical); accountants (12%); and administrative assistants (12%).

Results suggest that, aside from a few exceptions, demand for most positions is generally highest among GCC employers (especially high for sales executives (25%) and project managers (19%)).

When asked to rate the importance of various skills when looking to hire for senior versus mid-level or junior positions, employers across the region have higher expectations of senior hires.

Collaboration/teamwork (88%), efficiency (87%), communication skills (85%), overall personality and demeanor (85%), leadership qualities (84%), the ability to work under pressure (84%) and planning/organizational skills (84%) were regarded as the most important attributes in a senior hire. These skills were also among the most valued for mid-to-junior-level positions, however, to a slightly lesser degree were: efficiency (81%), communication skills (80%), collaboration/teamwork (80%), and the ability to work under pressure (79%).

The biggest gap in expectations between senior and mid-to-junior-level positions was witnessed for planning/organization skills (84% regarded it as important for senior level positions vs. 70% for mid-to-junior level); relevant industry experience (78% for senior level positions vs. 67% for mid-to-junior level); negotiation skills (78% for senior level positions vs. 68% for mid-to-junior level); overall personality and demeanor (85% for senior level positions vs. 75% for mid-to-junior level).

In terms of industries, engineering and design (11%) is most likely industry to be looking for skilled candidates this year.

Employers have their say: What skills are lacking?

Employer feedback in the survey suggests it can be challenging to find candidates with the required skill sets, with the difficulty being experienced for both senior and mid-to-junior-level positions.

When asked about the difficulty of finding specific skills in senior candidates, MENA employers claimed that creative thinking (63%), critical thinking and problem solving (63%), adaptability/managing multiple priorities (60%), international work experience (60%) and leadership skills (59%) were the top skills that candidates lack.

Interestingly, ‘technical skills’ were seen as posing the least challenge, with only 50% finding these skills difficult to find in senior candidates.

The skills gap in the Middle East: Perceptions and solutions

Although the large majority of job seekers (80%) are very committed to continuously acquiring new skills, over half (55%) of MENA respondents still feel that there is a clear skills gap in the region. Evidence shows that it is challenging for employers in the region to find candidates with the required skills. This difficulty is especially accentuated when recruiting for senior positions, with over two-thirds (70%) of respondents claiming they find it either ‘very difficult’ or ‘difficult’ to find candidates with the required skills. The situation seems to be slightly easier when recruiting for junior positions, although almost half (49%) of the employers surveyed still rating the hiring process as ‘very difficult’ or ‘difficult’. Currently, a little over half (56%) of the employers surveyed in MENA felt comfortable that their company had sufficient skilled employees to achieve this year’s goals.

Across the region, when respondents were asked to select the main reason why they felt job seekers have difficulties in finding jobs matching their skills, the fact that ‘job seekers do not know what employers are looking for’ (34%) and that ‘educational institutions do not teach students the skills they need to enter the job market’ (22%) topped the list. When looking at country-specific responses, results suggest ‘job seekers not knowing what skills employers are looking for’ is more of an issue in the UAE (42%) and Qatar (42%), while those in Egypt were the most likely to claim that ‘educational institutions do not teach students the skills they need to enter the job market’ (30%).

When asked about the best solutions for the perceived skills gap, respondents across MENA listed that ‘companies should provide enough training opportunities to employees’ (42%); ‘companies, educational institutions and governments should work together to predict future skills needs’ (40%); and ‘companies and educational institutions should work together to provide students with the skills they need to enter the job market’ (39%) as the most ideal solutions.

A total of 5,345 interviews were conducted for this study between March 3rd and March 22nd 2016. Analysis was split across two main stakeholder groups; those working full-time or part-time (job-seekers), and those involved in hiring decisions for their company and whose companies are currently hiring (employers). 62% of the respondents were GCC residents, one-quarter (27%) were from North Africa, and the remainder from the Levant (11%).

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