How COVID-19 is helping Oman develop a future-ready workforce

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Sami Al Asmi, Curator, Muscat Hub

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has hastened the digitalization of many Omani companies and made part-time and remote work a new reality;
  • Oman’s workforce will need access to information on these emerging opportunities and young recruits will need the training required to make the most of them;
  • The pandemic has reset work trends and Oman’s HR leaders will need to rethink the workforce, employee training and approaches to measuring performance.

In recent years, how to be more inclusive of youth and their capabilities in the workforce has been one of Oman’s primary challenges. The National Center for Statistics & Information’s census suggests that Omani youth between the ages of 18 to 29 represents 46.7% of the Sultanate’s population. As such, every year there is an influx of fresh graduates met with an imbalance of available opportunities.

Fortunately, a series of reforms issued by His Majesty Sultan Haitham bin Tariq has ensured steady rotation in the workforce, specifically in the government sector. These include a reduction in the retirement age and the introduction of a Job Security Fund with a starting budget of $26 million.

To bridge the skills gap between national workforce supply and industry demand, the Omani government has also set up a nationwide training infrastructure and tasked the Ministry of Labour with developing Omani talent for the jobs of today and opportunities of tomorrow.

Omani companies keen to compete in the global marketplace will have to reinforce their training commitments as job requirements evolve, particularly as working lives get longer, and workers of all ages will need to regularly update existing skills and learn new ones.

Constant reskilling to add to an individual’s pre-existing area of expertise and life-long learning are challenging the traditional reliance on solely school-based learning. The digital age has made continued learning easy with tools including e-learning platforms, such as Oman’s own Edlal, Coursera and Udemy. Acquiring and honing new skills that are relevant to the need of the hour is beneficial; predicting and meeting the skill needs of the future is critical to make our economies shatter-proof.

The top 10 skills required in 2025
The top 10 skills required in 2025 Image: World Economic Forum

Oman and the “Human Cloud”

Omani companies and youth alike are already logging on to sites like Fiverr or Upwork and using the “Human Cloud” to get jobs done or to offer their services. Instead of being a threat to Omani jobs, the Human Cloud offers a wealth of opportunities to local talent willing to go online and meet the needs of global companies.

However, it is fundamental to ensure that our young employment seekers, wherever they are in Oman, are trained with in-demand skills, have access to the equipment they need, have places and spaces to work and, most importantly, are equipped with the knowledge and information necessary to present and promote themselves on these sites.

Adapting business models to COVID-19 situations

The pandemic has brought some industries to a devastating halt, while others are still in the process of adapting to this new reality.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we witnessed companies in Oman letting go of their traditional business models and adopting the latest possible modes of operating. This move has been particularly noticeable in companies that had not moved assets to the cloud and were now doing so at full throttle. In a matter of weeks, Oman became a society where remote working was no longer a consideration for the future but a present-day reality.

How COVID-19 is affecting companies
How COVID-19 is affecting companies Image: World Economic Forum

The country also relaxed the regulations for setting up small-to-medium enterprises, which brought a rapid and unprecedented surge in new independent businesses. In a way, it can be said that the Omani youth has been swift to pursue entrepreneurship without a second thought – an encouraging feat and a vision for the future

The pandemic has also set in motion the wide acceptance of part-time work, as temporary work, “gig” or freelance work become part of the “new normal”. Many people may now juggle a number of projects rather than jobs in their work portfolio at any one time.

This is advantageous to the Omani economy where new industries are yet to open. Young Omanis are free to offer their skills and services to multiple companies simultaneously. This variety of projects will allow them to gain a range of experience that a traditional job position may no longer offer. The Oman Chamber of Commerce & Industry has recognized this benefit and is currently in the process of setting up an effective plan that enables part-time work for one and all.

Pandemic proofing

As the pandemic resets work trends, Oman’s HR leaders will need to rethink the workforce, employee training and approaches to measuring performance. Criteria for employment will perhaps be more inclusive of a diverse skill set rather than focused on region-based experience, while potential candidates will be bold enough to question an employer’s integrity. coronavirus, health, COVID19, pandemic

What is the World Economic Forum doing to manage emerging risks from COVID-19?

The first global pandemic in more than 100 years, COVID-19 has spread throughout the world at an unprecedented speed. At the time of writing, 4.5 million cases have been confirmed and more than 300,000 people have died due to the virus.

As countries seek to recover, some of the more long-term economic, business, environmental, societal and technological challenges and opportunities are just beginning to become visible.

To help all stakeholders – communities, governments, businesses and individuals understand the emerging risks and follow-on effects generated by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the World Economic Forum, in collaboration with Marsh and McLennan and Zurich Insurance Group, has launched its COVID-19 Risks Outlook: A Preliminary Mapping and its Implications – a companion for decision-makers, building on the Forum’s annual Global Risks Report.

Companies are invited to join the Forum’s work to help manage the identified emerging risks of COVID-19 across industries to shape a better future. Read the full COVID-19 Risks Outlook: A Preliminary Mapping and its Implications report here, and our impact story with further information.

In the long run, the benefits of automation, AI and digitization are going to be enormous. Like the industrial revolutions that came before, the effects will be positive. The advantages to greater diversification will be huge in crucial pillars of Oman’s economy like manufacturing and logistics. ASYAD has already predicted the use of drones to enhance global trade, for example. What we need to fear is not massive unemployment caused by technological change but growing inequalities in different segments of the workforce.

As we look to the future, to reset and rebalance, we must ensure Oman’s workforce has access to the information on emerging opportunities at home, online and abroad and to the training required to make the most of them.

This applies especially to gig and cloud workers who will not have access to the safety nets and guidance provided by HR professionals and other necessary resources. These workers will need support systems that keep them updated, encouraged and motivated; help them obtain the tools they need and guide them in organizing their time and planning for a financially secure future.

With the right systems of support and guidance, we can redress imbalances and allow our workforce to enjoy a secure future in which they can provide for themselves and their families and contribute to the socio-economic goals of Oman’s Vision 2040.

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