Archive for the ‘Education and national skills systems’ Category

In this Insights at the Edge of Government Analysis Flash, we look at the unprecedented level of economic opportunities for MENA youth created by ridesharing companies. In Egypt, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia alone, ridesharing firms have catalyzed 200,000+ economic opportunities. These opportunities, which have been created over the last 4 years, now exceed the workforce of the largest regional public sector employers as well as the expected job creation impact of many of the region’s in progress mega projects.

In previous blog posts, we have written about how sensible regulation of the sharing economy has the potential to contribute significantly to the MENA’s socio-economic development. Some countries, like Saudi Arabia, are getting sharing economy regulation right, while other MENA countries remain focused on more traditional policies to attract inward foreign direct investment flows for mega projects to create high skill, high wage jobs in knowledge-based industries and protect industry incumbents. Based on this analysis, technology-driven business models in the sharing economy have the potential to be a key tool for MENA governments to complement active labor market policies and large scale national economic opportunity generation strategies.

MENA ridesharing firms provide 300,000+ youth economic opportunities

Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ADCCI) recently sat down with Wes Schwalje, COO of Tahseen Consulting, to discuss the United Arab Emirates’ plan to become a regional and global themed entertainment destination with its sizable investments in theme parks.

ADCCI: What value do theme parks bring to the UAE’s tourist proposition?

Schwalje: In 2016 the World Travel and Tourism Council estimated travel and tourism contributed approximately $227 billion to Arab economies and employed approximately 6 million people. This means that the contribution of the travel and tourism sector to regional gross domestic product is on par with the banking, chemicals, agriculture, and automotive sectors. It is clear that travel and tourism will play a strong role in generating economic growth and employment in the Arab World over the next decade.

In the UAE, travel and tourism has been identified as a key sector for economic growth and diversification. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, in 2016, travel and tourism contributed $43 billion to the UAE economy. For this reason, the UAE has invested significantly in the travel and tourism sector to position itself as a destination of choice for international leisure and business travelers. The UAE’s more recent investments in theme parks complement the country’s already significant legacy investments in world class resorts, hotels, golf courses, and other attractions. Theme parks fill an existing gap in the types of visitor attractions the UAE offers. The UAE is world-renowned for its beaches and adventure tourism given its unique ecosystem. Over the last decade, it has launched a number or sporting, culture, shopping, and festivals which have been effective tourist draws. Heritage tourism has received a lot of investment in the run up to Expo 2020. Theme parks serve as an additional strategic lever in the UAE’s competitive strategy to attract tourists. However, it should not be ignored that some studies have shown that typically, residents from within 1.5 to 2 hours of a theme park, can account for as much as 80% of theme park visitors.

ADCCI: What kind of traveler will theme parks attract?

Schwalje: The business proposition of UAE theme park investments is rooted in the oft cited statistics that 6 billion people live within eight hours flying time to the UAE and Dubai and Abu Dhabi airport passenger traffic collectively amounts to approximately 100 million people. The idea is to convert these travelers into theme park guests. Based on the top source markets for UAE visitors, theme parks are likely to attract travelers from India, Saudi Arabia, United Kingdom, Oman, Pakistan, US, China, Iran, Germany, and Kuwait. However, it remains unclear how the UAE theme park might ultimately evolve. For example, key theme park clusters in Florida and California in the United States have carved out a niche which attracts visitors that are ready to travel long distances and stay in parks for long periods. In Florida, for example, overseas visitors have an average length of stay just above 10 days. In the UAE, the average length of visitor stay is approximately 4 days. So it is unclear if the UAE theme park market will evolve similar to the model of California and Florida or if it will evolve more closely to European or Asian theme park markets which often have considerably shorter lengths of stay and cater largely to more proximal geographic markets.

ADCCI: What kind of peripheral spends will these travelers bring?

Schwalje: Based on visitor spending trends globally, in addition to direct tourist spending on accommodation, transport, and entertainment, theme park tourists will also bring significant spending on shopping, sightseeing, dining, and other recreational activities. The indirect and induced spending impacts from tourism can be as significant as or higher than the direct contribution of travel and tourism to GDP. This implies that extending visitors’ length of stay should be a key priority for UAE tourism promotion authorities and key stakeholders.

ADCCI: How should the UAE optimize theme park segmentation? What types of parks work best?

Schwalje: To maximize revenues, UAE theme parks will need to quickly transition from selling 7-hour experiences to a 7-10 day experience. This will require doubling the average length of visitor stay in the UAE. While a large scale critical mass of theme parks and attraction is critical, a key challenge will be encouraging overnight stays by increasing suitable accommodation across all market segments.

ADCCI: Do ‘internationally branded’ parks, such as Legoland, offer more value and footfall?

Schwalje: Theme parks generally have two broad strategies for attracting customers: leveraging original local content or global alliances. In the UAE, theme parks have generally chosen the strategy of forming global alliances for intellectual property assets to make their parks appeal to a broader international audience. Empirical studies of the impact of park theming surprisingly show that theming is not particularly significant in driving entry prices and attendance – attractions seem far more important. So there is not conclusive evidence that international branding is a golden ticket to success. However, consumers are becoming more globally aware, and other rapidly developing competing theme park markets, such as China which opened more than 20 theme parks in the past few years, have followed a similar international branding approach to UAE theme parks.

ADCCI: What might theme parks of the future look like?

Schwalje: The theme park industry, like other industries, evolves based on economic conditions, global competition, socio-political developments, and technological developments. An interesting study conducted recently asked over 100 theme park leaders about their views on the future of the theme park industry. A few of the themes that emerged from this study were: top future themes for parks will be interactive adventure, fantasy and mystery, movies and TV shows, science fiction, and space; the family market will always be the target market for parks; operational excellence, such as reduced wait times and dynamic pricing, will become key points of future differentiation; visitors will demand more interactive, personalized experiences; and theme parks will have to offer integrated vacation experiences that include on-property accommodations, food services, recreation, shopping, recreational and entertainment activities, and other tourist services. We see many of these themes playing out now.

When it comes to news on economic trends and policies in the UAE, government and business leaders turn to the Abu Dhabi Council for Economic Development’s Economic Review. Tahseen Consulting is honored to have its work on developing a knowledge economy in the UAE highlighted in the publication’s November issue. We have posted the full article below.

Tahseen Consulting’s Chief Operating Officer, Wes Schwalje, spoke with representatives from the Abu Dhabi Council for Economic Development regarding his thoughts on how Abu Dhabi can build a knowledge economy. In a wide-ranging discussion, Schwalje discusses the link between the UAE’s knowledge-based economic development strategy and high skill, high wage job creation.

Abu Dhabi Council for Economic Development: How Can Abu Dhabi Build a Knowledge Economy?

Schwalje: The development goal of transitioning to knowledge-based economies emerged in many countries in the Arab World in the late Nineties due to the commonality of several factors related to culture, the economic environment, and socio-political developments. Across the region, knowledge-based economic development has become closely intertwined with national competitiveness and economic policies that support innovation, technology development, entrepreneurship, workforce skills development, adoption of high performance organizational structures, and information and communications technology infrastructure development. It has also become associated with environmental sustainability, identity, language, gender equality, and political participation and democratic reform in some countries. Five common economic development justifications, job creation, economic integration, economic diversification, environmental sustainability, and social development, are often cited as the underlying rational for pursuing knowledge-based economic development strategies. Research conducted by Tahseen Consulting shows that seventeen of the twenty-two countries in the Arab World have the development of a knowledge-based economy specifically stated as a medium to long-term development policy objective.

Abu Dhabi Council for Economic Development: How Can Knowledge-based Economic Development Strategies Lead to High Skill, High Wage Job Creation?

Schwalje: The causal relationship between knowledge-based economic development and ensuing job creation which will create the need for increased supplies of high skill workers has been particularly appealing to GCC policymakers. For Arab governments, the heavy reliance of the concept of knowledge-based economy on human capital development provides a useful means to achieve a number of attributed social and economic objectives, such as higher levels of educational attainment ; increased health; efficiency of consumer choices; higher levels of savings and charitable giving; social cohesion; increased self-reliance and economic independence; reduced crime; growth and competitiveness; increased productivity; domestic innovation.

However, with the emergence of low wage, high skills workers in developing countries, knowledge is becoming commoditized. With increasing cost competition in knowledge-based industries from emerging countries, the less resource wealthy Arab countries could feasibly follow a development trajectory grounded in selective participation in knowledge-based and manufacturing industries in which they have a cost advantage and have or can develop quickly sufficient workforce skills to compete against emerging country rivals. The Gulf countries, which employ many of their citizens in high wage roles in parastatals operating in knowledge-based industries and government institutions, may be particularly threatened by competition from low wage knowledge workers and be subject to significant margin compression which challenges the economics of their entry into knowledge-based industries.

Abu Dhabi Council for Economic Development: In Which Strategic Subsectors can Abu Dhabi be Globally Competitive in the Face of the Emergence of Low Wage, High Skill Knowledge Workers?

Schwalje: The Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030 outlines several economic sectors for growth and diversification.

  • Energy – Oil & Gas
  • Petrochemicals
  • Metals
  • Aviation, Aerospace, and Defense
  • Pharmaceuticals, Biotechnology, & Life Sciences
  • Tourism
  • Healthcare Equipment & Services
  • Transportation, Trade, & Logistics
  • Education
  • Media
  • Financial Services
  • Telecommunication Services

An extremely important next step in moving towards a knowledge based economy will be closely scrutinizing the industries identified in the Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030 for particular industry subsectors that are economically viable given the emergence of low wage, high skill knowledge workers in emerging economies, have the potential to offer wages that are attractive relative to reservation wages established by the public sector, present the possibility of developing a sustainable cost advantage, and which national workforce skills can be developed to provide the human capital required to grow the industry.

For example, research on the emerging renewable energy industry in the UAE found that the majority of firms which operate in the industry are concentrated in lower value added, downstream activities like installation, maintenance, and trading. Very few firms currently operate in higher value added, knowledge intensive industry segments like manufacturing, consulting, and finance. While such industries are in an emergent stage, it is unclear, if they remain concentrated in lower value added segments, whether their impact on economic development will be as significant as planned.

Abu Dhabi Council for Economic Development: What are Some of the Challenges Faced by Countries in Developing Knowledge Economies?

A historical example from the Arab World of the perils of inadequate skills development paralleling foreign and domestic investment is Muhammad Ali’s attempt to industrialize Egypt through the establishment of a textile industry in the 1800s. In 1819, Muhammad Ali began an industrialization drive using imported foreign technicians and investment which led to the establishment of 30 modern factories for textile manufacturing. By 1830, these factories employed 30,000 but within a decade all the factories had failed due to lack of technical skills, European competition, and increased production quality in Europe. At the time, French and English technical superiority and lower labor and raw material costs allowed the Europeans to displace Egyptian imports to Europe. Egypt also faced skills shortages related to engineers and mechanics who could operate, repair, or make innovative improvements to imported technologies which led to obsolescence of Egyptian textile equipment. English free trade concessions further led to industry decline, and by the 1840s Egypt was relegated to a supplier of raw materials to the European textile industry and a net importer of finished textile products from Europe. Despite significant investment in the sector, 87% of cotton in Egypt continued to be processed with manual, time consuming, inefficient methods until 1860 when state of the art steam technologies were introduced due to favorable competitive opportunities for Egyptian cotton resulting from decreased global supply from the US during the American Civil War.

One of the key challenges we have identified in our work with Arab countries pursuing knowledge-based development strategies in the region is the lack of effectiveness of skills formation systems. Our research shows that lack of effectiveness of Arab skills formation systems influences Arab firms to contest lower-skilled, non-knowledge intensive industries at the detriment to regional competitiveness and knowledge-based economic development. Adaptability and congruence of skills formation systems and constituent actors in response to factors such as economic development, skill demands of employers, technological progress and industrial strengthening, and macroeconomic trends is critical to knowledge-based development in the Arab World. Thus, the movement of many Arab countries towards knowledge- based economic development inevitably requires the transition to more effective skills formation systems.

Our research on the region has shown four primary requirements to develop skills formation systems for knowledge economy:

Governments must link economic development with education and training

Key roles

  • Coordination: Ensuring effective institutions to prevent market failure, underinvestment in skills, provide adequate regulation, and coordinate stakeholders
  • Aligning macroeconomic policy with skills formation: Educational and industrial policy interventions must be set in place so that education and training systems co-evolve with industry development.
  • Broad-based, inclusive skills formation: National skills formation systems must support the workforce presently employed in or entering the formal sector as well as individuals who are self-employed, working in informal sectors, or unemployed.

Education and training systems must produce human capital in the quantity and quality required by the labor market

Key roles

  • Ensuring relevancy and employability: Governance, policy, and coordination mechanisms that link educational systems to specific labor market outcomes avoid supply-demand informational gaps regarding skills trends and ensure skill alignment with the needs of employers
  • Quality Assurance: Adoption of performance-oriented, rather than expansion focused, approaches to improving quality, increasing performance, and assuring student marketability
  • Expanding Access: Programs to develop skills amongst those disadvantaged by inadequate investment

Employers need to take a longer term approach to skills formation for knowledge-based development

Key roles

  • Workforce Investment: Employers must be committed to continuous, regular on the job training and knowledge transfer in response to high-performance workplace organization and skills relevancy but also remediating inadequate pre-employment general skills
  • Workforce Development: Cooperation of education and training institutions, the business community, and governments to provide individuals with gainful, rewarding employment as well as firms obtaining the skills in the quantity and quality required

Individuals must be able to make informed choices about their investments in particular skills sets and continuously upgrade their skills

Key roles

  • Investment optimization: Individuals must seek out information on the future trajectory of industries and emergent skills needs, the returns to investing in particular skills sets, returns of education and training investments when calibrating their education and training decisions
  • Lifelong-learning: Individuals must be committed to continuous learning throughout all stages of life for the purposes of community engagement, the workplace, development, and well-being

Founded as a news weekly magazine in 1933, U.S. News and World Report is well known for its analysis of educational institutions in its annual college rankings. Tahseen Consulting is honored to have its work on Arab women studying and working STEM fields in the Arab World featured in two recent article in the U.S. News and World Report.

The State of Higher Education in the Middle East article references a Tahseen Consulting study in which we explored the barriers facing women in entering science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields in the GCC in an article in Forbes Middle East. The original article is available at http://tahseen.ae/blog/?p=980.

U.S. News’ article More Arab Women Studying STEM features comments by Tahseen Consulting’s Wes Schwalje on competitions as a mechanism of exposing female students to STEM fields.

Beginning in the late Nineties, Qatar launched a comprehensive set of education reforms to more effectively align its education and training system with its macroeconomic policies aimed at advancing towards a knowledge-based economy. However, technical vocational education and training (TVET) has not been a significant focus of educational reforms.

Though the need for more effective TVET systems emerged as early as the 1940s when Qatar started producing and exporting oil, the government has primarily focused on supply side, expansionary educational policies aimed at establishing new TVET institutions. However, many of the TVET governance institutions that prevent underinvestment in skills, provide adequate regulation, and coordinate stakeholders are still in a nascent state.

TVET policies in Qatar have largely proceeded without a clear conceptualization of the scope of TVET and which types of institutions should be included in the TVET policy and which ones should be excluded. TVET faces an identity crisis in which people are unhappy with the name, the image, and reputation. It remains unclear how technological TVET can be, what fields it encompasses, and whether TVET leads to jobs which are considered acceptable to Qataris.

In the presentation below, we highlight some of the issues Qatar will need to address to develop a national TVET strategy which overcomes existing gender issues.

Schwalje outlines 5 key challenges that GCC countries must overcome to keep women in the labor force

One of the most widely reported challenges that GCC countries and companies now face is the retention of highly qualified female employees. Retention can be particularly problematic as women try to strike a balance between familial responsibilities and succeeding in the workplace. Schwalje asked the panel to reflect on five key challenges: overcoming social perceptions about occupations traditionally dominated by males, implementing female-friendly workplace policies, enabling work-life balance, developing family-friendly facilities, and articulating clear career trajectories for women.

Panel members included Khawla Al Mehairi, Vice President of Marketing and Corporate Communication, Dubai Electricity and Water Authority, Khaled Al Khudair, Founder, Glowork, and Deborah Gills, Chief Executive Officer, Catalyst.

A copy of Tahseen Consulting’s analysis supporting the importance of addressing the five panel focus themes is below along a with video that captures Schwalje’s thoughts on the way forward.


Walid Aradi discusses why Dubai is well positioned to as a financial hub for international Islamic finance

Recently, Tahseen Consulting’s Chief Executive Officer, Walid Aradi, spoke with Philip Moore from Emerging Markets regarding his views on the emergence of Dubai as a global Islamic finance center. In a wide-ranging discussion, Aradi explained the competitive factors that Dubai has going for it as well as highlights the negative impact skills shortages and gaps may have on the evolution of the industry in the UAE.

A key challenge to knowledge-based economic development faced by Arab countries is weak innovation systems. We are honored to have had our research on Arab innovation systems cited by Dr. Mongi Hamdi, former Head, Science, Technology, and ICT at UNCTAD and Head of the Secretariat of the United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for Development (now Tunisian Minister of Foreign Affairs) in his address to the Arab Forum for Scientific Research and Sustainable Development.

Dr. Hamdi cites Tahseen Consulting’s Arab World Research and R&D Situation Analysis and Options in which we highlight several serious challenges that Arab countries face in developing strong science, technology, and innovation systems:

  • R&D spending is significantly lower than in the developed world with very little private sector funding;
  • Regulatory frameworks do not protect intellectual property leading to low levels of patents and stifling private R&D expenditure;
  • Weak government policy making in research and innovation in spite of various studies which have shown that critical components necessary for innovation systems, research, market-oriented R&D, and entrepreneurship need to be concurrently fostered and linked in knowledge-based economies;
  • Weak institutions such as educational systems; institutions conducting basic, applied, and interdisciplinary research; business incubators; funding institutions; and professional societies;
  • Arab scholarly, scientific, and professional organizations generally operate at a low level of activity due to lack of funding;
  • Venture capital, research foundations, and technology transfer funds that promote research are only emerging now;
  • Few multinationals or regional companies have R&D centers in the Arab World. Incentives to promote private sector R&D, innovative research, and recognition of research achievements are limited;
  • R&D and education, especially graduate education, are strongly coupled. However, the research function has gradually been marginalized in Arab universities;
  • University research centers are few and do not have access to critical resources;
  • Research commercialization is depressed due to the lack of business incubators and disconnects between industry and academia;
  • While availability of scientists and researchers is higher than other developing regions, the number is significantly less than OECD countries and other R&D leaders;
  • Few Arab national or regional organizations or governments provide funding to promote international or inter-Arab research cooperation;
  • Absence of travel grants to attend academic meetings has stifled the formation of professional societies, dissemination of research, and international citation;
  • Individual Arab researchers who lack financial support instead increase their level of international collaboration while neglecting regional cooperation or co-authorship with other Arab researchers, or in extreme cases choose to brain drain.

With its second issue released in July, Forbes Woman Middle East is quickly emerging as a leading publication for female professionals in the Arab World. Rather than focus on beauty and fashion like many competing publications aimed at women in the region, Forbes Woman Middle East is aimed at professional women who are trying to make a mark on companies across the region.

Tahseen Consulting is honored to have its work on female technical vocational education and training and employment in the GCC featured in the July issue. We have posted the article below. In the article, Tahseen Consulting’s Chief Operating Officer Wes Schwalje speaks with Hannah Stewart Executive Editor from Forbes Woman Middle East regarding the barriers facing women in entering science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields in the GCC. In a wide ranging discussion, Schwalje explains the economic impact of the lack of women employed in STEM fields and what GCC countries can do to encourage more women to enter emerging technical fields.

Forbes Woman Middle East: How do the numbers of women working in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics fields in the GCC compare to men?

Schwalje: The female labor force in the GCC is generally employed in fields such as public administration, education, and social work. In many of the GCC countries, it is not uncommon to find 70% or more of the female labor force concentrated in the public sector. However, differing labor market structures in GCC countries means that women are more willing to work in STEM fields outside the public sector in some countries than others. While the male labor force in the GCC is also heavily concentrated in the public sector, there has been a notable shift towards employment in more diverse STEM fields within the construction, transportation, petrochemicals, and extractive sectors.

Forbes Woman Middle East: Why are there so few?

Schwalje: The structure of GCC educational systems, gender-biased academic offerings, and lack of female faculty serve to dissuade females from enrolling in STEM programs and subsequently entering technical employment fields. Government and institutional decisions to offer select programs to women fail to fully cover STEM fields of importance to emerging knowledge-based fields in the region. In many GCC nations, women also do not have adequate opportunities for exposure to STEM at a young age which means they do not have an opportunity to develop an interest in STEM fields. Social and cultural norms are highly influential in motivating the occupational choices of females in GCC nations and limit the sectors in which females desire to work.

Forbes Woman Middle East: How persistent is this problem across the rest of the world?

Schwalje: Female students in the GCC make up only a small portion of students enrolled in secondary technical pathways that may lead to continuing their studies or seeking employment in STEM fields. Female enrollment rates at the secondary level are significantly lower than OECD countries. While females in GCC countries have much stronger TVET enrollment rates at the tertiary level that are on par with the OECD countries, many women who are trained in STEM fields ultimately wind up being employed in the public sector rather than in the fields they were trained in. The magnitude of these trends, though present in other countries, suggests a unique regional challenge regarding societal and labor market signals that presently push women towards a very narrow selection of socially acceptable employment fields in the public sector.

Forbes Woman Middle East: What are the main barriers holding women back?

Schwalje: The success of females in accessing higher education, in which females now make up the majority of enrollments in nearly all of the GCC countries, to some degree has masked the emerging regional challenge of attracting women to STEM programs and their subsequent labor market entry into emerging high skill, knowledge-intensive, STEM fields. However, many women who attend higher education receive degrees in fields which are not consistent with regional economic ambitions to grow technology and innovation-driven industries. The issue starts from a young age when girls lack exposure to STEM fields and are encouraged to pursue academic fields such as humanities, social sciences, and education. Socio-cultural beliefs and structural labor market features influence female higher education choices away from STEM fields and lead to occupational sorting into a limited number of occupations in the public sector.

Forbes Woman Middle East: What are the implications of low female presence in the STEM fields for societies and economies across the Arab world?

 Schwalje: When women are enabled to reach their full potential in the labor force, there are significant social and economic gains. Increased female participation in STEM fields can influence changes in gender role attitudes and can broaden labor market options for women. Low rates of female employment in STEM fields could have very negative implications for regional growth by depriving emerging knowledge-based industries of highly skilled labor. Although labor force participation amongst GCC females remains amongst the lowest in the world, there is potential to attract highly educated females into the labor market and high growth STEM fields in particular. Low rates of labor market participation make it more difficult for women to enter the labor market, particularly in STEM fields or companies with few women. Without a critical mass of other females in STEM fields, women face many barriers to success: they may not be able to create support networks; they may be viewed as invisible and powerless in their institutions; they may face difficulties working with male colleagues; and they may have difficulty advancing in their workplaces.

Forbes Woman Middle East: What can GCC countries do to amend the disparity?

Schwalje: Across the GCC, some STEM options are not open to women, including many advanced engineering sub-disciplines critical to regional development. Addressing the supply of TVET programs means not only increasing the number of options available to women but also ensuring that institutions are female-friendly and offer high quality programs attractive to females. To increase the number of females studying in STEM programs at the secondary and tertiary levels, GCC countries will have to address socio-cultural barriers to enrollment. Addressing these barriers will involve interventions and policies aimed at students and parents that positively influence persistent beliefs about the kinds of students who attend TVET and the post-graduation opportunities available to women. Ease of entry, effective labor market and social policies, and female-friendly workplaces are critical to attracting outgoing technically trained females from national education and training systems to employment in STEM fields. In several GCC countries policy experiments with training and wage subsidy programs have proven effective in incentivizing companies to hire more women.

Forbes Woman Middle East: Do you believe that more attention from faculty advisers might keep STEM women on the academic career track?

Schwalje: In many of the GCC countries, women are practically absent from STEM faculties. Within institutional faculty structures, female educators in the GCC also tend to be concentrated at the lower ends of the academic pyramid. While more attention from faculty advisers could potentially play an important role in increasing female enrollment and employment in STEM fields, research suggests that role models have the most powerful impact on students’ academic success when they share similar background characteristics with students. From this perspective, low numbers of female faculty might perpetuate beliefs that women are not successful in STEM fields. Because women have historically been employed in the public sector in the majority of GCC countries, there are also few female role models outside academic institutions. While there is a value in highlighting the successes of women who are from royal or prominent families, it is unclear to what extent the experiences of such women can serve as aspirational motivation for women. A major challenge in the GCC remains identifying and exposing young women to role models with whom they can more personally identify with.

Forbes Woman Middle East: Could conditioning, via early socialization and gender bias be to blame for the disparity?

Schwalje: Research on educational content in GCC nations has found that textbooks may contain implicit biases that portray women in administrative rather than technical positions. This research suggests that women throughout the Arab region are socialized to occupy different social and economic roles than males, and part of this socialization process occurs in educational institutions at young ages. Prior research has found that textbook content throughout the region continues to portray women as family members, while portraying males in their professions. The way that women are portrayed in textbooks to children, even at young ages, influences girls’ understandings of the appropriate future roles and paths available to them. When women are predominantly portrayed as mothers or in administrative positions, textbooks are re-enforcing socio-cultural norms that women should stay at home or should take predominantly desk-based work in the future. In learning and curricula materials across the GCC, there appears a widespread need to more positively and broadly portray women working in STEM fields.

Forbes Woman Middle East: Are there any signs to indicate positive change in the MENA region, or perhaps examples of Arab women successfully working in this field?

Schwalje: There have been several positive regulatory and policy changes that signify change. Many of the GCC countries have made positive changes to labor laws to guarantee women receive equal pay as men. Yet, females are still limited in terms of the fields in which they can be employed and hours they can work by some national labor laws. The majority of the GCC countries have made significant progress on creating national qualifications frameworks which are important to changing opinions about STEM fields as many people do not currently understand how particular technical or vocational qualifications relate to more academic university degree level qualifications. The UAE’s National Qualifications Authority is now leading regional efforts towards a GCC-wide qualifications framework to increase student mobility and qualification portability regionally.

Competitions are an emerging means via which GCC countries have begun to expose students to STEM fields. In many of these competitions at the regional and international level, the GCC’s young women are excelling. National, regional, and global skills competitions can help attract women to STEM fields. Yet, many of the competitions and experiential opportunities offered in the region tend to be supported by international organizations and multinationals rather than indigenous initiatives supported by the GCC business community.

Forbes Woman Middle East: What advice would you give to young women interested in entering the STEM arena?

Schwalje: For youth in the GCC, following parental advice to seek a role in the public sector was generally very sound in the past due to higher salaries, benefits, and favorable conditions of employment. Nowadays, emerging research done on the returns to education in the GCC suggests that STEM qualifications, and particularly those qualifications which can be earned through two-year technical and vocational programs, are increasingly valued in regional labor markets. For example, evidence from Qatar shows that the rate of return to technical education exceeds that of academic higher education. In Bahrain, the payoff to two-year, post-secondary technical education is also higher than the payoff to a university degree. However, information gaps about the future trajectory of industries and emergent skills needs, the returns to investing in particular skills sets, and projections on the future returns of education and training investments are often unavailable in Arab countries to help students calibrate their education and employment decisions. For this reason, young women interested in emerging STEM fields must seek out information and form mentor relationships with women in their industry of interest. Because career counseling tends to show a strong bias towards academic education in the region, young women will need to make these connections themselves and develop an individual development plan to examine their skills, interests, and values.

Tahseen Consulting’s research on the national workforce skills required for knowledge-based development is featured in the below report by the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Science and Technology and the Foundation for Partnership Initiatives in the Niger Delta. The report, entitled Technical Skills Mapping for Accelerated Technology-Based Socioeconomic Development, shows that Nigeria faces many of the same difficulties resource-rich Arab countries face in developing national technical and vocational workforce skills for diversification into knowledge-based industries.