Monday, April 27, 2009

Nationals may soon replace Jordanian IT staff in Gulf

We all know that a considerable number of Jordanians, Egyptians, Lebanese, Syrians and other Arab nationalities are working in the IT sector in Gulf States. Without their involvement, IT would not have grown as it has in the oil-rich Gulf which has always been lacking in human resources.

The relative technical-savvy of Jordanians, coupled with the large-scale IT projects in countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE, have provided a ‘marriage of convenience last’ for all parties involved, and the Jordanian economy has also benefited from these professionals’ income flowing back home.

The question has always been, how long will that last!

Surely, as Gulf nationals grow in numbers, and acquire technical degrees and skills, other Arab nationals will be in less demand. Or, at some point, a major shift in policy may occur due to a major event - such as the current global financial crisis. Already, international organizations are advocating this change, and predicting a shift sooner than later, mainly due to the recession.

The executive director of the research arm of the international business school, INSEAD, spoke recently about this saying that “countries such as the United Arab Emirates and Qatar need to improve local skills to reap the full benefit of ICT investments in the region.”

This is part of the finding of the INSEAD and World Economic Forum annual report on Global Information Technology. The highest ranked Arab country in this report covering 134 countries happens to be the UAE at a respectable number 27- no surprises there.

It tops other MENA countries such as Qatar at 29- quite close behind- and Bahrain at 37, Tunisia at 38 and Saudi Arabia at 40 and Jordan, unfortunately, is at number 44.

Anyway, the point is that the Middle East is one the fastest regions across all regions in the world to move up in the “e-readiness rankings”, but Gulf countries have a relatively small population and rely on external expertise to drive ICT unlike other countries.

Therefore, experts see the key to the future of ICT growth in Gulf States is the ability to develop local skills; which means a need to see more engineers, programmers, architects and managers who are Emarati, Qatari, Saudi and so on. At the moment, it appears Gulf nationals do not lean significantly towards these scientific and technical professions. That, of course, could change. As leadership in the Gulf begins to ‘absorb’ these recommendations, things may change.

As lay-offs begin, the last last staff to be laid off will be nationals. So, in some ways, the recession may speed up this whole process. Perhaps it is time for authorities in Jordan to start planning for this change. If you’re an IT professional in the Gulf, beware!


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