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Are Middle Eastern organizations retraining the workforce for the future of work?

Effective L&D initiatives encourage businesses to maintain their competitive edge, boost employee morale, and produce financial gains.

Are Middle Eastern organizations retraining the workforce for the future of work?
[Source photo: Anvita Gupta/Fast Company Middle East]

Elon Musk’s Tesla recently debuted Optimus, a new humanoid robot that the company hopes could one day pick up groceries for people. The day may be close when robots will start complementing, if not replacing, humans. There are reports that robots may displace 400-800 million jobs by 2030.

No job is future-proof as automation advances rapidly. Digitalization is altering the workplace and sounding an alarm for both employers and employees. 

As for the Middle East, a recent survey found more than 60% feel their employment required specialized training. The majority of the workers polled in Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE believe that their nation lacks skilled professionals, according to a PwC report.

The time has come, according to experts, to build a future-ready workforce and prioritize Learning and Development (L&D) in the workplace. “The growing digital disruptions have caused a huge shift in how many aspects of business are handled,” says Maya Anandakumar Sreekumary, chief human capital officer at One Global Group. “In the fast-changing market, building a future-ready workforce is inevitable for the survival of any organization.”


Companies that lack upskilling and reskilling their workforce may face high attrition rates. “People turned to work from home when Covid-19 struck; the corporate world changed overnight. Although we were aware of how digitization will affect our jobs in the future, the abrupt technological change left many of us in a state of disarray,” says Abbud Ali, Abu Dhabi based Data Analyst, while adding, “We understood that it was time for us to upgrade.”

L&D has become the priority for employees. “Many of my colleagues had left their jobs because of the lack of learning opportunities,” adds Ali.

The rise of the chief learning officer reflects growing learning-centric priorities. Most L&D leaders—nearly three-fourths— agree that L&D has gained more importance in the past year. 

“When digital innovation is a norm, the Learning and Development industry is flooded with new tech and tools. We should not shy away from that in the world of talent; learning is the new currency,” says Zaur Shiraliyev, group head of L&D at Chalhoub Group.

“In the post-pandemic world, just like we are observing changes in consumer behaviors from a retail perspective, we are observing huge changes in employee preferences and choices. Well-being, purpose, and learning are becoming the key differentiators in an employer’s choice. We see learning as a unique employer proposition for our brand to attract talent. However, continued investment in talent and growing capabilities ensure their loyalty to the organization,” Shiraliyev adds.


What does a successful L&D plan look like when learning is more important than ever? According to Shereen Tawfiq, CEO at Balinca, “L&D should be the GPS while people are the fuel.” 

“Companies thrive because their culture is based on knowledge-sharing and respecting differences. This is the fertile soil you need for any L&D strategy to work,” adds Tawfiq. “A company needs to be clear on its goals and ensure that everyone on the team fully understands them..”

Most companies in the Middle East have already begun to place value on upskilling and reskilling. For instance, retail behemoth Chalhoub is investing in technologies to provide learning while keeping the flexibility to scale and cater to a broad staff base in different regions with varying language preferences—English or Arabic.

Keeping L&D as the priority, Chalhoub University will offer learning opportunities to serve three main needs of the employees: behavioral offer to support employees to be part of and contribute to the company’s culture; functional learning to support employees to get the best know-how of their profession; and leadership learning.

“We are partnering with internal and external subject matters to provide us with the best in class content and resources that can help us be ahead of the game to future fit our organization,” says Shiraliyev.

Similarly, One Global, a software firm based in Kuwait, has started by identifying leaders who execute the L&D strategy continuously and monitor its impact on the overall business performance. “We have in-house training, and our employees take random training by e-learning methodology to upskill themselves. In 2023, we plan to invest in the L&D of technologies that will suit our business needs. We would be creating a continuous L&D cycle, focusing on innovative programs to build the human talent to master the digital age,” says Sreekumary.

Meanwhile, Majid Al-Futtaim is developing plans to implement a role-specific sustainability training program for all front liners that will be initially rolled out across its retail stores. “Strongly supported by managers, the training program should provide employees with concrete, role-specific actions to implement in their day-to-day role and provide frontline with relevant knowledge of sustainability topics to engage and inform customers,” the conglomerate stated in an in-house report.


Several factors, including process automation, have contributed to the skills gap that organizations are dealing with today. “Closing potential skill gaps should be among the top priorities for any organization,” says Sreekumary while adding, “Creating training opportunities with cross-functional collaborations/engagement is a great way to expose employees to different skill sets within the organization and to develop their knowledge in specific areas that needs training.” 

Effective L&D initiatives encourage businesses to maintain their competitive edge, boost employee morale, and produce financial gains. Experts believe the talent shortage in the region can be solved by developing engaging training programs, assisting employees in discovering growth opportunities, releasing employee potential, and aiding the workforce in self-transforming.

“Employees always look for an enhanced growth profile within the organizational ecosystem, and having a great L&D strategy that will close the skill gaps for the current and future will resolve the talent crisis,” Sreekumary adds.

Recruiting new talent is one aspect of the talent dilemma; retention of the current staff is also important. Therefore, experts stress quality over quantity and believe that spending on top training that motivates participants to put what they have learned into practice is preferable to investing in numerous subpar training. 

However, taking people away from their desks is also a cost. Hence, Tawfiq says, “Calculate all the costs involved in the training and compare that to the investment you are making.”

While you want to retain your workforce, ask the employees to share their plan on how they see what they learned applied in their daily lives, and get the employees to walk the talk, adds Tawfiq. “Also, highlight the superstars who made an impact with the knowledge they gained. This can inspire more employees to do the same.” 

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