Living up to the Fourth Industrial Revolution: Where does Egypt stand?


As disruptive technologies continue to reshape every aspect of our lives, the world of work has had its fair share of change, too. According to the World Economic Forum, 5 million jobs will be lost by 2020, while complex problem solving, critical thinking and creativity are the three top skills needed in the job market by that time. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is upon us – and its exponential evolvement needs to be reckoned with.

At the Euromoney Egypt conference last year, senior advisor to the education minister for assessment, examinations and curriculum Deena Boraie laid out the ministry’s overhaul of the country’s education system. Part of the strategy was to include courses like robotics, design thinking, coding and programming into the secondary school curriculum in order to prepare students for the future job market.

According to the Global Talent Competitiveness Report 2019 – in which Egypt ranked 96th out of 140 countries – the relevance of the education system to the economy is factored into every country’s score. The variable looks at how well the education system meets the needs of a competitive economy. Egypt ranked 120th. In terms of employee development and the ease of finding skilled employees, the country ranked 109th and 101st, respectively.

Against this backdrop, the question of how the Fourth Industrial Revolution will affect the workforce in developing countries – such as Egypt – took central stage at a session entitled “Entrepreneurship and Job Creation” at the International Council for Small Business (ICSB) World Congress.

Workforce falling short in skills, not size
Globally speaking, the world of work is defined by some mega trends, according to the regional director for Africa of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Charles Dan. One of them is the technological change, while the other one is about demographic change. Between 2010 and 2030, the workforce of developing countries would increase by 60%, in particular in Africa and South Asia.

With almost 100 million people, of which the majority are young, the problem of workforce size is not one that plagues Egypt. The issue lies in the skills this workforce possesses.

“Egypt has an abundance of workforce; however, it lacks relevant and in-demand skills,” deputy minister for planning Ahmed Kamaly said, stressing that skill mismatches in the labor market have led to an uneven distribution of income.

Employers do not find the right people for the job, so they have to import highly trained foreign workers to fill the skills gap in certain industries, he elaborates.

Aligning with Kamaly, representative of Federation of Egyptian Industries (FEI) Ahmed Fekry Abdel Wahab explained that many factories had to either shut down because of the lack of skilled labor or import foreign workers. Hence, vocational training fuels the future of work in Egypt.

“The college-for-all mentality drilled into the society badly affects the image of vocational education,” Abdel Wahab said, calling for an immediate upgrade of the vocational educational in schools. Vocational enrolment in Egypt stands at 21.17%, based on the Global Talent Competitiveness Report 2019. Ranking 33rd in the Vocational Enrolment Index, Egypt is part of the top 25% globally in that sense.

Abdel Wahab believes that a national roadmap needs to be established to raise awareness about the industrial landscape and keep employees’ skills up-to-date, making them relevant for the global competitive job market and transitioning the country into the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

He also stresses the need to urgently revisit the employment policies and payment schemes to eliminate the migration of skilled civil servants to the private sector.

What does Egypt’s current job landscape look like?
In September 2017, the Ministry of Planning formed a group of experts to examine the Egypt Census 2017 results and prepare policy papers based on the analysis of the outcomes. Last month, the papers were presented at a conference entitled “Planning for Egypt’s Future using Evidence from Egypt’s Census 2017.”

Based on the census, the top 10 industries in terms of job creation in Egypt tend to be concentrated in the trade and distribution sectors and in fairly small, informal enterprises.

“On the positive side of the ledger, we see a major return of the so-called missing middle. The small- and medium(-sized) enterprises, which had been growing more slowly than the micro and large, are now growing more rapidly,” Egyptian economist and professor of planning and public affairs at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs Ragui Assaad explained during the event. “They’re absorbing more workers, creating more jobs, […] tend to be more formal and more productive and hire more educated workers.”

The manufacturing industry used to make up about a third of the jobs in the private sector; today, it contributes about one fifth, Assaad highlighted. “That is really bad news and needs to be reversed.”

In terms of promising industries for job growth and creation, he believes that financial, communication information and tradable services are at the top.

The World Economic Forum’s 2018 report on the future of jobs reveals that one of the most frequently cited job roles expected to experience an increase in demand over the 2018–2022 period in the Middle East are assembly and factory line workers, although Jack Kelly writes in Forbes that such jobs will soon be replaced by robotics and technology.

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