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Challenges on talent front

Finance Blogger: Ian Fraser Ian Fraser

By Ian Fraser in Doha

Gulf nations will have to become less rigidly hierarchical if they are going to boost entrepreneurialism and attract and retain overseas talent, according to speakers at the Doha Business Roundtable.

Linda Hill, professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, one of the speakers at the Economist-organized event, said that if expatriate workers are denied the chance to get to the upper echelons of indigenous businesses, the best talent will have little incentive either to come in the first place or to stay.

Yasser Hatami, managing director of, told the session (“Economist Intelligence Unit research presentation: The GCC to 2020: The Gulf and its people”) that the “sense of entitlement” among young nationals entering the labor market—their assumption they are entitled to a comfortable living because of who they are and that they won’t have to work very hard—is a barrier to change with negative economic consequences.

One female delegate wearing a veil told the event, which forms part of the QFINANCE Global Debates, that the issue of privilege must be resolved. She said: “People don’t get promoted on their talent or skills but because they are members of certain powerful families. It’s still tribal here,” she said.

Hatami said that the education system in the Gulf states is failing to produce people with the right mindset to succeed in business. He said the progressive rise in intrusiveness from Gulf governments, for example in insisting that Gulf-based companies employ fixed quotas of local citizens, is another barrier.

Hatami said: “How will the GCC solve the problem of generating jobs for young nationals entering the workforce? It’s going to be a source of huge tension over the next five to ten years between governments and private sector employers.”

Hatami warned that GCC countries will not even get to the starting blocks in the regional war for talent unless they offer attractive schools and other facilities for white-collar expatriates.

Florence Eid, managing director of Passport Capital, said the GCC’s capacity to absorb new labor-market entrants has been limited by the region’s failure to diversify its economies away from hydrocarbon revenues. She said the higher the price of oil—and it is currently on the decline having recently fallen to about $66 a barrel—the less their incentive to diversify their economies.

For entrepreneurialism to flourish, Eid said better “infrastructure” is needed. “The enthusiasm is there but the infrastructure is not,” she said.

She was not referring to “hard” infrastructure—pouring concrete, building bridges, skyscrapers, airports, etc.—but to the “softer” infrastructure of bridge building between the universities and the commercial world, and fostering entrepreneurship among college leavers. This has been neglected.

Tags: Gulf Cooperation Council , labor market , local workforce , Middle East , quotas
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