Posts Tagged ‘skills formation’

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.

Tahseen Consulting is honored to have its work on skills gaps in the Arab World cited by the Gulf News. We have posted a snippet from the article below. While we agree that more occupation-specific assessments and certifications are needed, there are likely larger employer-level interventions required before such initiatives can really have an impact. We view increasing the resources regional firms devote to workforce investment and development as systemic problems that must be addressed first.

Workforce Investment

While firms tend to focus on paying higher wages for highly demanded skills, macroeconomic trends and rampant market failures of education and training systems suggest longer term approaches to skills formation through continuous, regular on the job training and knowledge transfer are needed (Hall & Lansbury, 2006). Market failures in human capital formation are rampant as education and training institutions struggle to keep pace with economic growth (Lall, 1999). The workforce investment mandate of employers in the 21st century has expanded to include not only training in response to high-performance workplace organization and maintaining skills relevancy in light of competitiveness, but it now also includes the burden of remediating inadequate pre-employment general skills formation due to formal education and training system market and institutional failures. Despite widespread skills shortages and gaps observed in the Arab World, training rates are generally lower as compared to developed knowledge economies with more effective skills formation systems as well as other developing economies such as Brazil, China, and Russia (World Bank, 2010).

Lall (1999) suggests that basic skills, personal attitudes, and competencies developed through formal education and training must be complemented with specific technology-based experience to develop technical skills. Industrial sophistication and competitiveness are derived not from formal education and training but the “practical experience of mastering, adapting, and improving specific technologies” (Lall, 2000, p. 22). Industrialization and skill accumulation are achieved by expansion of the education system alongside the upgrading of the skill intensity of economic activities. For developing countries, this approach reduces the technology gap with advanced countries while raising the demand for higher levels of human capital and concurrently providing the education and training required for economic development (Mayer, 2000). To avoid insufficient individual incentives to engage in skill upgrading, improved performance and productivity gains from skills acquisition are linked with pay when firms exercise wage flexibility (Ashton & Sung, 2002).

The willingness and ability of firms to provide enterprise-based training is rooted in a number of factors. The educational attainment of the workforce and firm managers can serve to reduce investments in firm-level training. Low levels of education amongst a firm’s workforce can raise doubts surrounding the absorption capacity of training while managers with lower levels of education may not perceive a value in providing training. Managerial calculations of the returns to training may be further complicated by informational gaps surrounding technology, future skill requirements, and benefits of training (Lall, 1999). Firms which operate in less competitive, low skill production economies in which short-term strategic planning, little technological upgrading, low rates of capital spending, and an unfavorable economic policy environment for growth are rampant may prevent structured firm-based training.

Lack of internal capacity to provide training can obligate firms to rely upon external private training provision. In cases where the external training sector is underdeveloped and firm sizes are generally small, the inability to achieve scale to minimize training costs and budgetary constraints can serve to reduce the prevalence of firm-based training (Lall, 2000; Ziderman, 2003). This situation is particularly applicable in the Arab World where firm sizes are comparatively small relative to other regions (Schwalje, 2013c). Employee poaching, the tendency of firms to recruit employees with transferrable skills from other firms, may serve to limit firm-based training since training firms incur the cost of employee training only to lose the employee and resulting benefits of the training to another firm. In an environment with high levels of poaching, training firms will reduce training or only offer highly, specific training that is not transferrable to other firms (Acemoglu & Pischke, 1998).

Due to the variety of causes of inadequate enterprise training, policy solutions must be tailored to the root cause. In cases of market failure which deter workforce investment, joint approaches that share the responsibility of skills development between government and business have been effective. Training subsidies allow companies to develop training capacity, but more sustainable, longer-term approaches such as government provided training advisory and technical assistance funded through national training funds and levy-grant schemes are preferred. A notable initiative of this type is the Waqf Fund in Bahrain which trains employees for the Islamic banking sector based on contributions from private financial institutions which are invested in money market instruments and the returns invested in training initiatives. The Human Resources development Fund in Saudi Arabia also works in a similar way. Where the private training sector is weak, the government may fulfill a transitional role to build the capacity of private training providers complemented with public sector provided training. Payroll levy-grant schemes which do not require government financing are effective in limiting poaching. Under such schemes, firms which provide training receive subsidies to fund training initiatives while firms that do not train do not have access to funds since they are more likely to poach employees (Ziderman, 2003).

Tahseen Consulting is honored to have its work on skills gaps in the Arab World cited by the Gulf News.

Workforce Development

Jacobs (2002) identifies workforce development as the cooperation of education and training institutions, the business community, and governments to provide individuals with rewarding employment as well as firms obtaining skills in the quantity and quality they require. High youth unemployment rates and market failures of education and training systems to create general skills suggest an expanded role for the Arab business community towards ensuring alignment between the skills imparted in formal education and training systems and those demanded in the workplace. Apprenticeships or work experience, often compensated at below the market wage rate, in which work experience is integrated into the formal educational structure and classroom learning can ease the school-to-work transition and ensure employability of young graduates (Quintini et al., 2007).

Including employers in curricula design, identifying the skill sets needed by graduates, standards setting, and accreditation can ensure education and training systems evolve alongside changing labor market needs. Through membership in industrial trade associations, businesses can also serve a governance role in the skills formation system (Ackroyd, Batt, Thompson, & Tolbert, 2005). However, in developing countries the oversight role typically played by scholarly, scientific, and professional organizations may be limited due to lack of capacity. Workforce development ensures that the relevance and employability mandate of education and training systems is fulfilled by minimizing informational asymmetries which reduce individual investment in skills acquisition. Early employer involvement in articulating future skills needs also serves to reduce the need for workforce training investment to backfill general skill deficiencies resulting from poor quality education and training systems.

At Tahseen Consulting our core values reflect our organizational culture and guide our decision-making and interactions. One of our fundamental values is sharing our research with funders, businesses, educational institutions, community organizations, governments, and others through agenda-setting applied research so that we all learn and work together. Our research and insights have been featured in 40+ prominent publications and cited by several international organizations such as the New York Times, Forbes, World Bank. UN, OECD, European Investment Bank, and the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation.

Occasionally we publish articles that are so compelling that others “borrow” word-for-word from our work without proper citation or attribution. This was the case with a recent article that appeared in a prominent academic journal that “borrowed” largely upon the findings of Tahseen Consulting’s research on knowledge economy transitions in the Arab World but failed to acknowledge our work. The article, which can be viewed here: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/rsp3.12034/abstract, has since been retracted.

While imitation may be the highest form of praise, even if some people neglect proper attribution, it is clear we have reached an important milestone of success. You can read our article The Knowledge-based Economy and the Arab Dream: What Happened? below as well as explore our cutting-edge work on Arab knowledge economies by following the links below. However, if you find our work useful, please ensure you give us credit where credit is due.

Rethinking Arab Knowledge-based Economies

Knowledge Economy in the Arab World: The Arabization of the Concept of Knowledge Economy

Arab Knowledge Economies Require More Effective Skills Formation Systems to Generate High Skill, High Wage Employment

Underrepresentation of GCC women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields is increasingly a problem that compromises regional economic and social development. Although national education and employment policies have been directed at increasing female interest and participation in technical and vocational fields, women continue to shun STEM sectors. Why, with so much effort directed at attracting women to STEM fields, are the results so dismal and what should be done?

GCC nations face similar challenges in transitioning towards knowledge-based economies — they remain heavily dependent on natural resources, employ large numbers of nationals in the public sector, and rely on foreign workers to fill the private sector. While demand for technically trained labor in the GCC countries is very high, traditionally much of this demand has been filled by foreign labor. However, further public sector employment generation aimed at absorbing growing national populations may strain national budgets by increasing already high government wage bills. For this reason, GCC governments are gradually restructuring national technical vocational education and training (TVET) systems in concert with introducing labor market reforms to reorient national employment towards the private sector and in-demand STEM fields associated with knowledge-based economic development ambitions.

In the GCC, TVET currently faces an identity crisis in which people are unhappy with the name, the image, and reputation. GCC nations are particularly struggling with increasing the enrollment and employment of women in STEM fields. While some GCC countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, have viewed TVET as a key element of educational policy for many years, other GCC nations have only relatively recently focused their attention on improving TVET systems. Educational reforms have been accompanied by social and labor market policies aimed at directing women towards emerging STEM fields. However, 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.

View Our Other Work on Technical Vocational Education and Training in the Arab World

Promoting Entrepreneurship in the Arab World: The Need for Tailored National Approaches

Tahseen Consulting’s Work on Female Participation in Technical and Vocational Education and Employment Featured in Qatar Today

Why Aren’t There More Female Entrepreneurs in the GCC?

Given their high levels of education, women are a substantial underutilized resource for GCC economies. Several international studies have shown increased female labor market participation has a large, positive, and significant impact on economic growth and social development. 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. A challenge in the GCC countries is that many of the emerging industries which have fueled recent growth and job creation, including construction, wholesale and retail trade, transportation, financial services, petrochemicals, and the extractive sectors, are fields which are dominated by males and which tend to employ large quantities of low wage, foreign workers.

CountryLabor Market Participation
Male Nationals (%)
Labor Market Participation
Female Nationals (%)
Bahrain68%33%
Kuwait 61%30%
Oman*45%20%
Qatar 65%35%
Saudi Arabia 63%16%
United Arab Emirates58%20%
OECD Average69%51%
Female labor market participation rates in the GCC significantly lag the OECD average and, in some cases, are amongst the lowest in the world
Source: National Statistical Agencies of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE
Notes: * Based on working population age 20 to 60 with the remaining participation rates based on the working age population age 15 to 65.

In recognition of the potentially powerful addition that women can play in regional economies, GCC governments have set ambitious goals to expand the number of women enrolled in TVET programs and working in STEM fields. However, women are still much less likely to study STEM fields, and, when they enter employment, they tend to be concentrated in fields that are inconsistent with national economic ambitions for transitioning to diversified, knowledge economies. While much previous research that has focused on gender-based inequalities in education in the GCC has examined why men are less likely to continue on to higher education, there is significantly less research that has examined why females in GCC nations tend to shun STEM education and employment.

Why So Few? Barriers to Engaging GCC Women in STEM Education

Cultural ideas about what is appropriate work for women specifically limit opportunities to study STEM fields. In many GCC countries, women need support from family members to pursue higher education or work outside the home. Women are often directed by family members away from pursuing STEM programs, despite their interest or aptitude, due to ingrained cultural ideas about appropriate educational pathways and career tracks for women. While female role models can provide aspirational examples for women’s education and employment decisions that might challenge existing cultural ideas, there are very few female role models presently who received TVET training and are employed in a STEM industry who might positively influence females. The lack of female faculty available to teach TVET programs in the GCC may also implicitly send the message that STEM fields are either not appropriate career choices for females or that women are less successful in STEM fields. A growing body of evidence also suggests that educational curricula in the GCC may contain implicit biases that portray women in administrative rather than STEM positions which socializes women to occupy different social and economic roles than males from very young ages.

The secondary level is a crucial transitional period for young people in the GCC – whether they will transition to the labor market after graduation or continue on to university is largely decided by what they study in secondary school and how they perform. However, educational policies that sort students based on grades tend to reinforce existing notions that academic tracks are superior to vocational pathways. By not offering secondary TVET options to girls, the structure of academic pathways in GCC countries also contribute to female preferences for non-STEM programs. For this reason, female enrollment in secondary TVET has remained significantly lower than males across the GCC. While career guidance is one informational resource that can help girls consider broader education and employment paths, career guidance is often focused on coaching students towards non-STEM higher education fields. Higher admissions standards for academic programs than some technical fields feed perceptions that particular academic tracks carry higher social prestige. While GCC nations have launched ambitious sponsorship and scholarship programs, many of these programs perpetuate gender-biased labor market segmentation by incenting women to study fields such as clerical and administrative work over STEM fields.

At the higher education level, enrollment statistics show that women tend to pursue concentrations such as nursing, education, arts, and social sciences, rather than technical or scientific fields. While socio-cultural factors and parental influence play a role in students’ choices of major, GCC higher education policies can serve to limit female students’ options for study. Particularly in emerging STEM fields, many GCC nations suffer from inexplicit licensing and accreditation standards and unclear quality procedures. While formal channels of licensing and accreditation are generally covered by national ministries of education, nationwide quality bodies, or specific TVET regulatory bodies, regulatory gaps exist in TVET systems. For instance, in many countries, private institutions are not adequately regulated. The lack of clear standards for licensing and accreditation undermines public quality perceptions of TVET providers. To improve quality and align curricular standards to international norms, many countries have instituted accreditation reforms. However, the number of institutions involved in licensing and accreditation can often lead to overlapping authorities and complex regulatory environments that confuse potential students and parents regarding the value and employment opportunities associated with particular qualifications.

KuwaitUAEQatar
Major% of total female students enrolled% of total female students enrolled% of total female students enrolled
Arts and Sciences28%19%48%
Education27%3%4%
Business and Economics15%11%23%
Law9%3%6%
Food and Agriculture0%3%Data not available
Engineering17%7%15%
Medicine and Health Sciences3%2%4%
Information TechnologyData not available2%Data not available
Female public university enrollment patterns in the GCC show strong concentration of females in arts and sciences, education, and business rather than STEM fields critical to knowledge-based economic development
Source: National Statistical Agencies of Kuwait, UAE, and Qatar
Note: Data is presented only for countries which have publicly available statistics

What Holds Women Back? Barriers to GCC Female Employment in STEM Fields

A significant body of regional research has found that socio-cultural beliefs about female employment encourage women to pursue professional and administrative positions in the public sector. Jobs that do not fit this cultural ideal are more likely to be deemed inappropriate for females. Broadly speaking, professional and administrative positions in the public sector are considered more prestigious in Gulf countries, which means that women interested in STEM fields will likely be exposed to negative social pressure to avoid such professions in favor of more culturally acceptable roles in the public sector and state owned companies. In addition to generally being confined to employment in only a handful of select industries, women are also much less likely to work in senior management positions. In some GCC countries, occupational segregation puts specific demands on employers which are often unwilling or unable to provide separate facilities for females. Due to the prevalence of small-and-medium sized business in the GCC, many employers are lack the resources to provide the facilities required by occupational segregation. In this way, gender segregation can perpetuate labor market segmentation by decreasing the number of jobs available to women in emerging economic sectors.

Women also encounter difficulties finding employment due to structural labor market features which limit the fields they can enter. While the general direction of knowledge-based economic development is articulated in national level strategic documents in many Arab countries, such documents are less precise about the particular occupations within knowledge-based fields that may emerge as economies develop. In many cases, the rapidly emerging GCC industrial structure and economic planning limitations result in lack of labor market demand signals that lead to widespread skills shortages and gaps in GCC labor markets. In most GCC countries, the extractive industries remain the major economic sector. However, the extractive industries tend to be heavily male-dominated fields that attract few women. High percentages of foreign males in the private sector labor force also encourage women to seek more culturally and socially acceptable employment in fields with more women or those in gender-segregated environments.

The attractiveness of public sector employment is a primary factor behind women’s unwillingness to work in STEM fields. Jobs in the public sector are relatively well paid, not physically demanding, and provide substantial benefits over the private sector. The high concentration of females in the public sector makes it more difficult for females to enter the private sector and more diverse STEM fields because high levels of clustering reinforce social views that the public sector is the only appropriate employer for females. Emerging research also suggest that women face much more significant challenges securing employment than men which makes them seek the job security of the public sector. Women have more difficulty finding their first job in the GCC, and studies have shown that women generally use very few non-government facilitated methods for finding employment. The difficulty women experience transitioning to the labor market and between jobs make them more likely to become discouraged and voluntarily remove themselves from the labor market or retain jobs in the public sector.

Country% of Female Nationals Employed in the Public Sector% of Female Nationals Employed in the Private Sector
Bahrain50%50%
Kuwait*94%6%
Oman65%35%
Qatar88%12%
Saudi Arabia63%37%
UAE89%11%
Across the GCC, females are generally employed in the public sector
Sources: National Statistical Agencies of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and UAE
Note: * Some studies suggests that in 2010 79% of females now work in the public sector. However, a definitive publicly available data source is not available

Personal status laws, although recently reformed in many of the GCC countries, also restrict women from entering particular employment fields. The importance of fathers and husbands making decisions about their daughters’ and wives’ choices to work out of the home means that some women who might be interested in pursuing a career in a STEM field may be prevented from doing so. Female employment in particular fields can also be limited by vague language in national labor laws. While all GCC nations have undertaken nationalization policies to increase the number of national workers in the labor force and specifically in crucial private sector professions, nationalization initiatives have historically targeted male dominated industries such as oil and gas. While nationalization initiatives have the potential to open up new avenues to female employment, they may not have the intended effect if nationalization efforts are not focused on industries which women are likely to enter.

What GCC Countries Can Do

Progress towards increasing female enrollment and employment in STEM fields will need to target a variety of national education and training system, labor markets, and individual challenges.

Overcoming Policy, Planning, and Systemic Challenges to Equitable TVET Provision

In order to supply qualitatively and quantitatively sufficient levels of technically trained females to the labor market, national education and training systems must provide females with accessible technical pathways that are responsive to evolving socio-cultural norms concerning female labor market participation and employment in technical fields. Females’ access to STEM fields in many of the GCC countries is limited in part due to few providers who specifically serve women and government and institutional decisions to offer select programs to women that fail to fully cover STEM fields of importance to emerging knowledge-based industries in the region. 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.

Increasing Female Enrollment in STEM Programs

While many females from GCC countries are studying in TVET programs at the post-secondary level, several studies across the region have found that some STEM fields are viewed as a second-best option. To increase the number of females studying in STEM programs at the secondary and tertiary levels, GCC countries will have to institute reforms that increase demand for technical and vocational education by addressing socio-cultural barriers to enrollment. Addressing these barriers will involve interventions and policies that positively influence persistent beliefs about the kinds of students who attend TVET and the post-graduation opportunities available to them. Reforms must center on information and reputation management that increase women’s access to information about STEM education, encourages women to enter STEM fields, and improves the perceived status of STEM education.

Encouraging Women to Enter Employment in STEM Fields

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. As with the decision to enroll in technical programs, encouraging women to work in technical fields requires incentivizing and providing information to women to motivate particular labor market choices. Barriers to female employment are varied and include such issues as family responsibilities, female preferences for certain work environments, and expectations about what types of jobs offer the best pay and benefits. Effective reforms will likely involve structural labor market policies that make technical positions and private sector employment more desirable options.

Increasing Employer Demand for Technically Trained Females

Increasing female employment rates in technical fields will require increasing employers’ demand for female labor in a way that overcomes existing preferences for public sector employment. The focus must be on encouraging private sector companies to hire females. Companies must be convinced of the desirability of hiring females despite some employers in the region viewing females as more expensive and requiring special accommodations. In several GCC countries policy experiments with training and wage subsidy programs have proven effective in incentivizing companies to hire more women.

In January 2013, we highlighted the issue of skills shortages and gaps potentially limiting the ambitions of aspiring Islamic finance hubs in the Arab World. A key challenge that all aspiring Islamic finance hubs face is developing a banking workforce with Sharia knowledge, the ability to clearly explain Islamic banking products, and the ability to contribute to product development. Without these competencies staff in Islamic financial institutions have difficulties explaining products to customers and are unable to contribute to product innovation. In the run up to the recent Global Islamic Economy Summit in Dubai, our research on skills needs required by emerging Islamic financial hubs was cited in by several news outlets and institutions in the GCC.

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View Our Other Work on Islamic Finance and Banking in the Arab World

In our blog post Skills Shortages and Gaps May Limit the UAE’s Islamic Finance Hub ambitions (http://tahseen.ae/blog/?p=597), we highlight that the UAE, for example, faces tremendous skills shortages in forging a vibrant Islamic finance industry.

In our blog post Tahseen Consulting’s CEO Sees Strong Growth Potential for Local Banks in the UAE (http://tahseen.ae/blog/?p=735), Walid Aradi outlines why local banks have been gaining market share from international competitors in the UAE

In our blog post Tahseen Consulting Analysis Cited by Abu Dhabi Council for Economic Development in its Analysis on the Growth of Islamic Finance in the UAE (http://tahseen.ae/blog/?p=694), Tahseen Consulting’s Wes Schwalje comments of on the growth of Islamic finance in Abu Dhabi

As Arab countries pursue knowledge-based economic development, national skills formation policies require significant rethinking says a new report from Tahseen Consulting in collaboration with the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research.

Wes Schwalje, chief operating officer at Tahseen Consulting, says swift action must be taken to create sustainable jobs and develop the region into a truly global knowledge economy.

Wes Schwalje, chief operating officer at Tahseen Consulting, says swift action must be taken to create sustainable jobs and develop the region into a truly global knowledge economy.

You can read the article here: http://gulfbusiness.com/2013/09/why-the-gcc-needs-news-skills-formation-systems-now/#.UiRyOT-7Liq

Why The GCC Needs New Skills Formation Systems – Now

As Arab countries pursue knowledge-based economic development, national skills formation policies require significant rethinking says a new report from Tahseen Consulting

In our recent study A Conceptual Model of National Skills Formation for Knowledge-based Economic Development in the Arab World we raise a red flag over whether regional economic development plans have sufficiently accommodated global trends that have eroded the high wage, high skill opportunity bargain throughout Europe and the United States as these regions have pursued knowledge-based development. Nearly all of the countries in the Arab World have adopted development of a knowledge-based economy as a policy objective to meet economic, political, and social objectives. In the region, policies aimed at catalyzing knowledge-based economies are highly related to job creation, economic integration, economic diversification, environmental sustainability, and social development. While the advantages of knowledge-based economic development have become clearer, so too have the challenges of implementing related policies.

The potential risk of Arab economies failing to effectively contest knowledge-based industries by not factoring in the globalization of knowledge is reminiscent of the story of 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 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.

In today’s global economy, a key question is whether Arab economic development strategies based on the transition to knowledge economies have sufficiently taken into account the changing economic environment where knowledge is becoming cheaper and commoditized by emerging economies. Decreasing pressure on wages due the globalization of knowledge industries and growth in high skill, low cost talent in emerging countries challenges the assumption that more education, higher levels of skills, and national labor markets can provide prosperity to Arab citizens and nations. Because competition for dominance in knowledge-based industries is now global and emerging countries are moving up the value chain to perform increasingly more sophisticated activities, the Arab region’s plans to enter knowledge-based industries are susceptible to the globalization of low cost, high skill competition from beyond the region’s borders.

Nations which have pursued economic development strategies to capitalize on offshoring have generally employed either a strategy based on the export of low-cost and high-end knowledge-based services or alternatively low-cost export-oriented manufacturing strategies. Because knowledge and business process and manufacturing outsourcing is a cost minimization strategy pursued by companies, wages in outsourced sectors face persistent compression forces from many countries which are in line to offer the lowest wages possible to secure employment for their citizens and spur economic growth. The Gulf countries, which employ many of their citizens in high wage roles in parastatals operating in knowledge-based industries, 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.  A recent ranking of the attractiveness of the top 50 global service offshoring locations shows that competition is not only coming from the BRICS but from many countries in Southeast Asia, the Baltic States, Eastern Europe, and Central and South America. However, only five Arab countries, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, and the UAE, appear on the ranking.

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.  However, the high wage structure of Gulf labor markets is at odds with the emergence of high skill, low cost knowledge workers in other countries and attempts by global companies to minimize costs through outsourcing. While leapfrogging into some of the more innovation-driven, high skills knowledge-based industries might be a long-term vision for Arab countries, such a development trajectory ignores the immediate need now to create jobs and provide economic opportunity for youth. Across the region there is also the risk of competitive latency in which global industry possibility frontiers are driven by an increasing array of countries which may create additional competitive gaps compared to leading edge countries and companies that go unrecognized or cannot be reached due to market failures in skills formation by the Arab countries. Our research provides evidence of a lack of effectiveness of Arab skills formation systems that influences Arab firms to contest lower-skilled, non-knowledge intensive industries at the detriment to regional competitiveness and knowledge-based economic development.

The Arab opportunity bargain relies on a modernized interpretation of creative destruction which posits that emerging markets can also be sources of knowledge-based innovation. The low levels of regional R&D and innovation led to substantial expenditures in the Nineties on critical components necessary for innovation systems, research, market-oriented R&D, and entrepreneurship such as educational systems; institutions conducting basic, applied, and interdisciplinary research; business incubators; funding institutions; and professional societies. An important question for the Arab World to answer in making such investments is how much of a risk creative destruction poses for high skill, high wage job creation since continually innovating economies present both employment opportunities for workers in new industries who have the right skills as well as failed dreams for those who do not have the right skills, experience, or education. Contrary to what the region’s economic development strategies suggest, the future of the Arab Dream is very much reliant not only on what happens nationally and regionally but what happens globally in terms of increased economic integration, availability of cheap highly skilled labor, rival competition for knowledge-based industries, demand for commodity exports, and the economic health of other countries.

National Skills Formation for Knowledge-based Economic Development

Beginning in the 1990s, there was a shift in the Arab World away from viewing education and training systems as solely suppliers of skills toward an emphasis on the relationship between governments, educational systems, labor markets, and firms to generate demand for skills. By adopting demand-driven, ecosystem approaches to skills formation, Arab governments can align education and training systems with high-growth sectors of industry for knowledge-based economic development and achievement of accompanying economic, political, and social objectives.

While many international models of skills formation promote an exclusively market based approach, several Arab countries view investment in human capital as a political and economic goal in which significant government intervention is warranted. Yet, many previous attempts at skills formation policy have failed to address persistent skills development problems and do not present a comprehensive strategy to develop the skills of the national workforce as a whole. Despite the need for countries to adopt demand-driven approaches to skills formation, many of the countries in the region have pursued policies with no clear link between key stakeholders and specific economic outcomes.

The changing demands of knowledge-based economic development create a need for interdependence and collaborative networks for effective skills formation. The widespread regional pursuit of knowledge-based economic development is driven by policies that envision the emergence of high skill, high wage economies that will create jobs. However, the global availability and growth of low cost, high skill workers potentially threatens the viability and economic fundamentals of sophisticated, innovation-driven knowledge-based industries taking root in the region if skills formation challenges are not addressed.

The Need for a New Approach

The changing demands of knowledge-based economic development, global macroeconomic trends, and social development, create a need for interdependence and collaborative networks consisting of education and training providers, firms, government entities, and other key stakeholders for effective skills formation. Citing good practices of skills formation policy from across the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, our research presents a framework via which countries can analyze their skills development systems.

Arab skills formation system reforms must challenge the assumption that more education is always better. Particularly in non-resource rich Arab countries, governments must reconsider the full employment promise which hampers global competitiveness, reduce wage inequality to ensure equal distribution of wealth, and determine the Arab world’s position in a global economy with emerging low cost, high-skill competitors that challenge knowledge based economic development both in the developed and developing world.

While some Arab countries are more suited to competing in a high-skill, low-wage global economy, other Arab countries which are unable to compete in high-skill, high-wage knowledge-based industries will need to adequately calibrate the expectations of their citizens regarding the types of jobs that will be available in the future. They will also have to account for the likely instability of salaries due to wage compression from competing low-wage, high-skill workers. Efforts in the region to privatize education attainment so that labor market success or failure passes the burden on to individuals are prone to market failure without sufficient demand for skills from the labor market. If knowledge-based industries fail to take root and lead to employment, many of the reforms and money spent on higher education expansion, education quality, R&D ecosystems, and entrepreneurial growth could be deemed inappropriately spent.

A copy of our recent study A Conceptual Model of National Skills Formation for Knowledge-based Economic Development in the Arab World can be downloaded at http://www.alqasimifoundation.com/en/Publications.

As Arab countries pursue knowledge-based economic development, national skills formation policies require significant rethinking says a new report from Tahseen Consulting in collaboration with the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research

August 20, 2013 – Dubai, UAE – Nearly all of the countries in the Arab World have adopted development of a knowledge-based economy as a policy objective to meet economic, political, and social objectives. Policies aimed at catalyzing knowledge-based economies are highly related to job creation, economic integration, economic diversification, environmental sustainability, and social development. While the advantages of knowledge-based economic development have become clearer, so too have the challenges of implementing related policies. A Conceptual Model of National Skills Formation for Knowledge-based Economic Development in the Arab World, a new report by Tahseen Consulting, developed in collaboration with the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research, provides a framework and best practices from the Gulf Cooperation Council for helping governments align skills formation policies with knowledge-based economic development.

A copy of the report can be downloaded at http://www.alqasimifoundation.com/en/Publications

National Skills Formation for Knowledge-based Economic Development

Beginning in the 1990s, there was a shift in the Arab World away from viewing education and training systems as solely suppliers of skills toward an emphasis on the relationship between governments, educational systems, labor markets, and firms to generate demand for skills. By adopting demand-driven, ecosystem approaches to skills formation, Arab governments can align education and training systems with high-growth sectors of industry for knowledge-based economic development and achievement of accompanying economic, political, and social objectives.

While many international models of skills formation promote an exclusively market based approach, several Arab countries view investment in human capital as a political and economic goal in which significant government intervention is warranted. Yet, many previous attempts at skills formation policy have failed to address persistent skills development problems and do not present a comprehensive strategy to develop the skills of the national workforce as a whole. Despite the need for countries to adopt demand-driven approaches to skills formation, many of the countries in the region have pursued policies with no clear link between key stakeholders and specific economic outcomes.

“The changing demands of knowledge-based economic development create a need for interdependence and collaborative networks for effective skills formation, said Wes Schwalje, Chief Operating Officer of Tahseen Consulting and author of the report. “The widespread regional pursuit of knowledge-based economic development is driven by policies that envision the emergence of high skill, high wage economies that will create jobs. However, the global availability and growth of low cost, high skill workers potentially threatens the viability and economic fundamentals of sophisticated, innovation-driven knowledge-based industries taking root in the region if skills formation challenges are not addressed.” 

The Need for a New Approach

The changing demands of knowledge-based economic development, global macroeconomic trends, and social development, create a need for interdependence and collaborative networks consisting of education and training providers, firms, government entities, and other key stakeholders for effective skills formation. Citing good practices of skills formation policy from across the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, the report presents a framework via which countries can analyze their skills development systems.

“Arab skills formation system reforms must challenge the assumption that more education is always better,” said Walid Aradi, Chief Executive Officer of Tahseen Consulting. “Particularly in non-resource rich Arab countries, governments must reconsider the full employment promise which hampers global competitiveness, reduce wage inequality to ensure equal distribution of wealth, and determine the Arab world’s position in a global economy with emerging low cost, high-skill competitors that challenge knowledge based economic development both in the developed and developing world.”

While some Arab countries are more suited to competing in a high-skill, low-wage global economy, other Arab countries which are unable to compete in high-skill, high-wage knowledge-based industries will need to adequately calibrate the expectations of their citizens regarding the types of jobs that will be available in the future. They will also have to account for the likely instability of salaries due to wage compression from competing low-wage, high-skill workers. Efforts in the region to privatize education attainment so that labor market success or failure passes the burden on to individuals are prone to market failure without sufficient demand for skills from the labor market. If knowledge-based industries fail to take root and lead to employment, many of the reforms and money spent on higher education expansion, education quality, R&D ecosystems, and entrepreneurial growth could be deemed inappropriately spent.

The Centre for Learning and Life Chances in Knowledge Economies and Societies at the Institute of Education, University of London cited Tahseen Consulting’s research on the governance of skills formation in knowledge-based economies as a potential model for more effective national education and skills formation strategies in OECD countries.

Tahseen Consulting’s Related Work

Read about Tahseen Consulting’s work on creating national skills formation for knowledge-based development

The Middle East’s youth unemployment rate of 25%, which is amongst the highest in the world, is partially attributable to  severe skills shortages in certain fields and a lack of opportunities for youth in others. Several empirical studies have shown a causal relationship between unequal distribution of qualified youth in different fields in the Arab World and high youth unemployment rates (Kapsos and Sparredom, 2011; Abdul latif et al., 2009; Tamkeen, 2010).

Causes of Unequal Distribution of Qualifications: Are Poor Career Decision Making Processes To Blame?

Arab youths have been found to show little recognition for the need to synchronize early career choices with aspirational values sought after in their careers over the long term. Consequently, the majority of youth in the Arab World when asked if they could ‘go back in time’ to make their career path decisions again respond that they would make a different choice (IFC, 2011). Such findings are indicative of low levels of early career decision satisfaction and high levels of regret in career choices made amongst Arab youth.

In terms of making career specialization decisions, youth in the Arab World rank the following values in order of importance

1. Job satisfaction

2. Good pay and opportunities for personal development

3. Broader contribution of employer

4. Opportunity to work with talented people

5. Opportunity to contribute to development of their country (Asdaa, 2009; Little, 2010).

The ranking of the desire to contribute to the development of their countries by Gulf Arab youth as one of the top values sought after in a career is of particular interest. Such findings suggest that an awareness of the positive economic contribution that efficiency in labor allocation could have on economic development in their countries during the career decision making process may encourage youth to consider career fields that face skills shortages or are otherwise overlooked (IFC, 2011). The ability to influence Arab youth to consider career specializations which face skills shortages early in their careers in the Gulf countries is of significant importance to regional governments in terms of limiting the number of expatriates required in certain fields and promoting private sector employment participation.

 Can ‘Prompting for Value-Ranking’ Influence Career Choices of Arab Youth?

Consumer behavior and decision sciences literature has shown that prompting respondents to rank their values prior to making decisions can yield positive results in terms of post-decision satisfaction and lower levels of regret. In a labor market context, asking youth in the Gulf Arab region to rank attribute values that they consider important when making career choices, prior to actually choosing a career path, could potentially influence the career choices they subsequently make. Commonly accepted theories in the West, such as the cobweb model, show that supply of particular labor market skills is highly related to the economics of a profession, such as expected salary, and other forces that signal ongoing job opportunities and the state of the market such as R&D, output levels, and competition from others with similar skills. However, forces signaling professional opportunity and market health can be more influential in motivating the supply of particular skillsets than salaries. From this perspective, Gulf Arab youth who are sufficiently aware of the contribution their career choice could have on the development of their countries can potentially be influenced to enter fields which they had previously not considered.

While behavioral interventions for better decisions have been found to be effective in Western societies (e.g.Thaler and Sunstein, 2008; Lenton et al., Volpp et al., 2008; Johnson and Goldstein, 2003; Kluger and DeNisi, 1998), including those involving the influence of values (e.g. Wooler, 1982; Ravlin and Meglino, 1987), such interventions have not been thoroughly tested in the  Gulf Arab region. Behavioral interventions affect career decision choice by prompting the decision maker to think through what they want out of a particular choice and the importance of considering values consistency when making an informed career choice. Given the low levels of career decision satisfaction amongst Arab youth, prompting for value ranking can potentially be used as a behavioral decision aid that would establish a mental link between values sought after and career choices, or at least an awareness of such a link (Wooler, 1982).

Our research specifically tests the effectiveness of behavioral interventions in motivating Gulf Arab youths to choose career disciplines which face skills shortages. We started with the working hypothesis that consideration of values in career choices would increase the number of high school and university students and recent graduates who chose or at least considered career paths with a labor supply need. This hypothesis was based on the assumption that respondents confronted with career choices in industries which face skills shortages would seek to align their value of contributing towards the development of their country with career choices that might lead to the resolution of labor market inefficiencies. We also tested more broadly whether better decisions, with regards to post-choice satisfaction, confidence, and fit with preferences, are made, as compared to when not prompted for ‘value-ranking.’ Based on international findings, youth in the Arab World would presumably be more satisfied with their career decisions when attribute value ranking is integrated into the career decision making process (Chernev, 2003).

The Unexpected Results of ‘Prompting for Value-Ranking’ in Career Choice

In contrast to predictions, our research shows that youth in the Gulf stick to more commonly chosen career disciplines rather than those which face skills shortages when prompted to rank career attribute values. Prompting for value ranking, therefore, seems to decrease the likelihood of Arab youths choosing career disciplines characterized by labor market gaps which are outside traditional career disciplines typically pursued by youth in the Gulf.  This reverse influence of the ‘prompting for value’ intervention on career choices emphasizes how unfamiliar youth in the Gulf Arab World are to considering values when making career choices. From a practical perspective, the low availability of information on labor market gaps and disciplines with higher labor demand suggests a low awareness of career disciplines that would satisfy the desire to contribute towards national development by entering fields with significant labor market demand. These findings highlight information asymmetries regarding potential career disciplines that have the potential to satisfy attribute values resulting in the unintended consequence of higher adherence to traditional career options due to high social regard and reputation (Al Omran, 2012).

Our results also illustrate an indifference in subjective measures of decision quality (satisfaction, confidence and perceived fit with preferences) when a behavioral intervention was integrated and when not. This is a potential indicator of the inapplicability of behavioral interventions in the Gulf Arab World due to students being unaccustomed to considering values when making career decisions, a finding that has also been demonstrated in previous research in the Arab World (IFC, 2011).

Potential solutions: In whose hands?

Our results highlight the ineffectiveness of behavioral interventions due to an absence of consideration of values and solid information in career choices of youth in the Gulf Arab World. The use of behavioral interventions depends on the assumption that decision makers have a certain degree of knowledge or awareness that would enable decision makers to ‘spot’ the best choice outcome. This knowledge of what particular occupations will be in demand seems to be absent in the Gulf Arab region (Fasolo and Bonini, 2010).  Addressing the lack of research and statistical information on labor market gaps and attribute values and features of career disciplines with labor demands is critical for youth in the Gulf Arab World to make more informed career choices that would benefit the labor market (IFC, 2011).

Moreover, the effect of myths that some occupations are ‘better’ or ‘inferior’ than others seem to be overriding an interest or consideration of labor market gaps and labor demands of certain disciplines. Therefore, despite the need for better information on labor market gaps in the Gulf Arab region, the power of word of mouth in shaping reputations of career disciplines in Arab societies could potentially override the influence of prompting for value ranking even with higher availability of information in the Arab World (Yousef, 2004; IFC, 2011). Given our evidence, the Gulf Arab World should focus on better information and awareness of prerequisite conditions (i.e. attribute values of career disciplines and labor market gaps) to enable youth to make more informed career decisions consistent with economic development ambitions.

Khamael Al Safi Khamael Al Safi

Khamael Al Safi specializes in the analysis and design of innovative organizational practices, and the development of tools and approaches for the governance of organizations and markets. Khamael has worked for the people and knowledge development functions of several organizations specialized in financial services, non-profit education and media and publishing. She has a particular interest in the role of behavioral decision making in human and organizational development and has focused her recent research on career choices of youth in the Gulf Arab world. She is a recent graduate of the London School of Economics where she studied for a MSc in Organisations and Governance.

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Given the lack of an unambiguous definition of what constitutes a skills gap in previous surveys and imperfect measurement proxies, Figure 1 below shows that the present understanding of what causes skills gaps is similarly vague. If the intent of national skills surveys is to devise public policy interventions that might affect the behavior of firms in remediating skills gaps, the precision with which the causes of skills gaps are identified is of critical importance. Of the several skills surveys we reviewed, seven specifically ask respondents to identify the causes of skills gaps. From these surveys, four areas of thematic overlap emerge as potential causes of skills gaps: recruitment difficulties; HR practices related to employee development, motivation, and retention; strategic shifts in response to changing business environments; and transitional stages of employee orientation and integration. This section reflects briefly on these four thematic areas to advance a typology which takes into account the present understanding of the source of skills gaps.

Causes of skills gaps implied by survey questionnaires

We reviewed skills surveys from 14 countries and found an ambiguous definition of what constitutes a skills gap and how they are caused.
Sources: (Campbell, Baldwin et al. 2001; Learning 2004; Development 2006; Learning 2007; Office 2008; Zealand 2008; Shury, Vivian et al. 2009; Education Analytical Services 2010; Shury, Winterbotham et al. 2010)

Recruitment Difficulties: Recruitment difficulties can arise for a number of different reasons such as:  competition from other employers; not enough people are  interested in doing a particular job; long training times to develop skills; limited capacity of training organizations in relevant fields; poor terms and conditions offered for jobs such as unsociable hours, unattractive employment modalities, or low pay; poor prospects of career progression; location in a remote location with poor transportation; attitude, motivation, or personality mismatches etc. The multitude of reasons for recruitment difficulties requires the need to distinguish between situations where there are few people in the labor force who have the required skills, work experience, or qualifications to perform a job (a skills shortage) and situations where there are people in the labor market with the requisite skills, work experience, or qualifications but, due to some reason, are not attracted to a particular job (a recruitment difficulty).

An important consideration, however, is whether skills shortages are a symptom of greater problems involving market and institutional failures in the skills formation system rather than a direct cause of skill gaps. Effective government institutions that prevent underinvestment in skills, provide adequate regulation, and coordinate stakeholders are key elements of effective national skills formation systems. These institutions exist to link economic development with the evolution of education and training systems; ensure qualitative and quantitative supply-demand match between outgoing students and the needs of the labor market; facilitate regular, on-the-job  training provision and  participation in skills formation by the business community; and address policy, informational, or financial sources of individual underinvestment in national workforce skills formation (Schwalje 2011). As governments attempt to influence the technological and industry structure of their countries, the absence or weakness of government mechanisms to coordinate and align skills formation institutions can create a need for skills that cannot be predicted by free market mechanisms which can result in skills shortages.

The effectiveness of formal education and training systems is increasingly measured by production of human capital in the quantity and quality required by the labor market and whether outgoing students meet the expectations of employers (Development 2010). Accessibility to education and training  institutions, quality, and the degree to which education and training systems produce employable students influence the preparation of individuals with the skills, work experience, and qualifications to meet labor market needs.  In this respect, education and training institutions can impact allocative efficiency in labor markets which can result in skills shortages.

Private rates of return explain the motivation of individuals to pursue different levels and types of education to augment natural abilities with skills subsequently sold in the labor market. Individuals engage in an investment optimization process in which they participate in education and training as long as the value stream of future earnings is more than foregone earnings, training, and equipment expenses. However, empirical studies have shown that wage differentials relative to less skilled workers can be affected by sectoral shifts requiring higher skill intensity (Schultz 1975); when expansion of educated labor outpaces expansion in employment (Pritchett 2001); and where technological progress is rapid and government policy is conducive to technological progress and skill intensive development (Rosenzweig 2010). Since the impacts of government industrialization policy may be unknown to individuals, information gaps about the future trajectory of industries and emergent skills needs, the returns to investing in particular skills sets, and projecting the future returns of education and training investments can result in market failure. Skilling investments may also be subject to short-termism in which individuals are unwilling to invest in skills with uncertain and longer-term return horizons. The motivation of the labor force to engage in lifelong learning to ensure continued relevancy of skills may similarly be impacted by return uncertainties. Capital market weaknesses in terms of a lack of funding to finance education and training investments can lead to underinvestment. Externalities and labor market rigidities may also alter the incentives and returns to skilling resulting in sub optimal investment in skills formation. The many factors which can alter the expected return to particular skills or which signal sectoral growth or promise affect individual skilling decisions which may result in skills shortages.

Returning to the proposition that recruitment difficulties due to skills shortages are a symptom of greater problems in the skills formation system, it seems probable that skill shortages can result from market and institutional failures in the governance and institutional quality of skills formation systems, the employability of outgoing students from the education and training system, and  informational or policy-related sources of uncertainty which motivate individual investment in skills development. Market and institutional failures may influence firms to engage in substitution behavior where they hire employees which they know require additional skills to meet firm needs in the face of skills shortages. Similarly, market failures and institutional quality can result in a situation where new entrants to the labor force appear to be qualified but are subsequently found to lack skills. Both of these scenarios can result in skills gaps as firms absorb employees from the external labor market who do not have the required skills, work experience, or qualifications when facing recruitment difficulties attributed to skills shortages.

HR practices related to employee development, motivation, and retention: Firms provide training to increase and maintain workforce skills levels to support core competencies in addition to developing new skills that can form the basis of future firm competencies. The willingness and ability of firms to provide training and development depends on a number of factors. Managerial calculations of the returns to training may be complicated by informational gaps surrounding technology, future skill requirements, and benefits of training (Lall 1999). In situations of market or institutional failure, staff development may require training to retain competitiveness in addition to remediating inadequate pre-employment skills formation. Employee poaching, the tendency of firms to recruit employees with transferrable skills from other firms, and turnover may serve to limit firm-based training since training firms incur the cost of employee training only to lose the employee and resulting benefits of the training to another firm. Depressed levels of training and development due to a variety of factors can lead to skills gaps that erode creation and production of firm competencies jeopardizing the application of workforce skills toward market-oriented business objectives.

As mentioned in the discussion on the competence-based view of the firm, it is not enough for a firm to have a highly skilled workforce to achieve competitive advantage. A firm’s human resources pool must also be motivated to act in the interests of the firm. In England (30%), Scotland (7%), Northern Ireland (19%), and New Zealand (16%) many firms cite employee motivation as a cause of skills gaps (Zealand 2008; Shury, Vivian et al. 2009; Education Analytical Services 2010; Shury, Winterbotham et al. 2010). HR practices are both a way to develop workforce skills as well as to ensure alignment between workforce behavior and firm-level goals. HR practices, through their influence on employee motivation, induce productive employee behavior to apply their skills. Similarly, HR practices can affect employee turnover levels. For example, HR systems which promote employee involvement, participation, training in group problem solving, socializing, high concentrations of skilled employees, and higher average wages have been shown to reduce turnover (Arthur 1994; Delaney and Huselid 1996).

Numerous theories and metatheories of workforce motivation exist which propose various sources of motivation leading to individual behavior. By understanding the sources of motivation, firms can design HR policies to encourage productive employee behavior which enables full deployment of workforce skills. The most commonly researched HR policy areas which impact motivation include rewards (such as compensation and promotional systems); task (aspects of job and task design); management style; and social inducement systems (Leonard, Beauvais et al. 1999). Several studies have found that task complexity and whether a task is considered interesting or not may be more suited to certain types of motivational inducement systems (Gagne and Deci 2005). These findings suggest HR practices require tailoring to specific firm, job, and industry contexts to induce productive employee behavior. The consequence of misalignment of HR practices with sources of workforce motivation can affect employees’ choices regarding the direction, level of effort, and persistence of behavior which can lead to skills gaps.

Strategic shifts in response to changing business environments: The competence-based view of the firm stresses the criticality of consolidating human and other resources into market-oriented competencies that allow firms to adapt to changing environments. The ongoing renewal of competencies has implications on business processes, market positions, and expansion paths (Teece, Pisano et al. 1997). Competency renewal may involve changes in company strategy, goals, markets, business models, products and services, working practices, or technology. Evolving business strategies in response to the competency renewal process may require specialized skills that current employees lack resulting in skills gaps. Similarly, changing job requirements due, for example, to technology adoption or job promotion, might mean that once proficient employees now lack skills to perform new or evolving roles. Increasing and maintaining workforce skills in light of competency building and renewal in response to changing opportunities implies that skills gaps can emerge as firms struggle to respond to internal and external forces that threaten firm competitiveness.

Transitional stages of employee orientation and integration: A large percentage of employers in several countries highlight recent recruitment, post-merger employee integration, and lack of experience as a cause of skills gaps (Development 2006; Zealand 2008; Shury, Vivian et al. 2009; Education Analytical Services 2010; Shury, Winterbotham et al. 2010). However, it is unclear to what extent temporary, transitional phases associated with the beginning of the employee-employer relationship can be considered a cause of skills gaps since presumably such transitory skill gaps are likely to decrease as employees complete induction training and gain confidence in their roles. Generally induction training is firm specific and focused on acquainting new employees with the company structure, specific job requirements, and organization policies (Bijnens and Vanbuel 2007). A more appropriate indicator of causality would be whether an employee exhibits post-induction training persistence of a lack of skills to perform a job which results in the compromised ability of a firm to meet business objectives. Such an output indicator would then point toward an insufficient induction and integration program, rather than state of completion of the induction or integration program, as a potential source of skills gaps. Nevertheless, firms appear to view transitional stages in the employee induction process as a significant source of skills gaps.

A typology of skills gaps that considers this discussion and captures the present understanding of the source of skills gaps is shown in Figure 2 and explained below:

A typology of the causes of skills gaps

In this figure, we advanced a typology of skills gaps that considers this discussion and captures the present understanding of the source of skills gaps from several national skills surveys.

Market and Institutional Failure Induced Skills Gaps: These are skills gaps which stem from market and institutional failures in the skills formation system. When facing difficulty in recruiting employees from the external labor market under current market conditions due to lack of required skills, work experience, or qualifications a company demands, firms engage in substitution behavior by hiring staff who require further training. Firms may also hire new entrants to the labor market who are apparently trained and qualified for occupations but who are subsequently found to still lack a variety of the skills required. Market and Institutional Failure Induced Skills Gaps are caused by

•Poor Skills Formation Policy: Government coordination of the skills formation system fails to link economic development with the evolution of education and training systems; ensure qualitative and quantitative supply-demand match between outgoing students and the needs of the labor market; facilitate regular, on-the-job training provision and  participation in skills formation by the business community; and address policy, informational, or financial sources of individual underinvestment in skills development or

•Education and Training System Misalignment: Accessibility, quality, and the degree to which education and training systems produce employable students are insufficient to prepare individuals with the skills, work experience, and qualifications to meet labor market needs or

•Insufficient Individual Investment: The many factors which can alter the expected return to particular skills or which signal sectoral growth or promise negatively impact individual skilling decisions.

Human Resources Management Related Skills Gaps: These are skills gaps which are a result of inadequate HR practices related to employee development, motivation, and retention. Human Resources Management Related Skills Gaps are caused by

•Insufficient Staff Development: Depressed levels or inadequately planned training and development that erode creation and production of firm competencies jeopardizing the application of workforce skills toward market-oriented business objectives or

•Poor Retention and Motivation Practices: HR practices that inadequately address employee retention or a misalignment of HR practices with sources of workforce motivation.

Structural Skills Gaps: These are skills gaps which are a result of strategic shifts in response to changing business environments that lead to a mismatch between current workforce skills and the requirements of employers. Structural Skills Gaps are caused by

•Strategic Shifts in Response to Changing Business Environments: Failure to increase and maintain workforce skills to build and renew firm competencies in response to changing business opportunities that may involve adjustments in company strategy, goals, markets, business models, products and services, working practices, or technology. Structural skills gaps can be viewed as a strategy-skills lag in which current workforce skills lag new or expanded skills required by alternative strategic directions associated with competency renewal. Causal ambiguity and environmental complexity makes it difficult for managers to determine the sufficiency of the current human resources pool relative to desired states of the human resources pool to achieve adapted or future business outcomes.

Transitional Skills Gaps: These are skills gaps attributable to the beginning of the employee-employer relationship whether due to recent recruitment or post-merger employee integration. Presumably transitory skill gaps are likely to decrease as employees complete induction training and gain confidence in their roles.