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Challenge or opportunity? Supporting employability in GCC Higher Education Institutions


Employment and employability are undergoing significant change globally, and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, including the United Arab Emirates, are no exception. The convergence of technological advancements, evolving workforce expectations, and the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic have meant a reevaluation of employability in the region. 

Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in the GCC find themselves at a crossroads, grappling with the crucial task of supporting and driving student employability.

Importance of employability in GCC Countries:

The GCC, with its vast sovereign wealth funds and a burgeoning economy, is an attractive hub for global investors and businesses. However, as the region shifts away from oil dependency, ensuring a highly skilled local workforce is imperative for sustained economic growth.
For example – Oman has set an ambitious goal to become one of the largest green hydrogen producers and exporters globally. Saudi Arabia’s tourism strategy aims to enhance the sector’s role in the domestic economy.

The evolving nature of work, characterised by remote and gig opportunities, demands a workforce with both academic qualifications, versatile skills, and adaptability. Such change necessitates a shift in HEIs’ approach to education to align with the changing needs of the job market.

Challenges faced by HEIs:

HEIs understandably have an academic focus, emphasising theoretical knowledge and academic skillsets. However, employability encompasses a broader spectrum that involves collaboration with corporates, governments, training institutes, and recruitment companies and leveraging data, AI, and technology. 

This interdisciplinary nature of employability poses a challenge for HEIs, as they need to bridge the gap between academic excellence and real-world applicability. In addition, the influx of international investors and venture capitalists into the GCC region adds pressure on HEIs to produce graduates who can meet the diverse and dynamic demands of the job market.

The global perspective on employability:

The future of work in GCC is no longer a local consideration; it is a global concern. The emergence of Industry 4.0 is transforming the skills required in the workforce. Universities worldwide are challenged to prepare students for a rapidly changing job market. In the GCC, the challenge is made worse by a youth bulge and high youth unemployment rates. To address this, HEIs must adopt a global perspective, aligning their programmes with international standards and collaborating with global entities.

Strategies for HEIs in the GCC:

Relevance of courses: HEIs should connect disciplines to address real-world problems, aligning curricula with the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Prioritising skills that are hard to find and focusing on durable skills like global citizenship, technology, and interpersonal skills are crucial.

Technology-enabled career portals: Establishing dedicated online portals can bridge the gap between students and employers. These portals can offer tools for skill development, job search preparation, and virtual connections to potential employers.

Lifelong Learning Initiatives: Acknowledging the reduced shelf life of skills in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, HEIs should invest in lifelong learning initiatives. Micro-credentials, online delivery, and industry partnerships can create a more flexible and responsive education system.


In tackling the employability landscape in GCC countries, Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) find themselves at the crossroads of challenge and opportunity. Their role in shaping a workforce capable of thriving in the evolving world of work is both a demanding task and an opportunity for transformative impact. Adapting to the interdependent nature of employability, aligning curricula with global standards, and embracing technology-driven solutions are not merely nice-to-haves but represent keys required to bridge the substantial gap between academia and the dynamic job market.

As the GCC region undergoes a profound economic transformation, the role of proactive, capable HEIs takes on an increasingly critical dimension. The opportunity lies in these institutions’ need to recalibrate their approaches, ensuring graduates possess academic prowess and the versatile skills demanded by a rapidly evolving job market. It is an opportunity that requires HEIs to navigate complexities, collaboratively engage with diverse stakeholders, and craft innovative solutions that address the ever-changing demands of the workforce.

Categorized as blogs

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