With the discovery of oil and its burgeoning revenue in the early 70s, the otherwise desert countries of the GCC got a new lease of life. Petrodollars, the income generated from selling oil, gave them a new economic impetus.
Infrastructures were built, high-rise buildings mushroomed and, in general, the countries opened their doors to the outside world. However, the local manpower to handle all the vacant jobs needed to run government establishments and private businesses were lagging far behind.
Then came the hiring of expert consultants who advised governments to manage development projects and channel the incoming revenues to keep the development momentum. It was followed by the establishment of government institutions.
Schools and hospitals were opened but with few local staff to fill in the vacancies. This necessitated the import of teachers and health professionals from abroad. The construction boom brought about the influx of labourers from countries as far as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The countries prospered; international outlets and investors came in droves; fast-food outlets mushroomed; and people started growing sideways.
In much of the mid-70s to late 80s, the GCC remained the magnet for employment of people from all walks of life around the globe. During those years, Bahrain was one of the countries that considered investing on its human capital with the aim of cultivating own skilled labour to work along with the expat force and ultimately replace them in due course of time.
The vision has paid dividends and much of the public sector now is taken by the local workforce. However, there still remains a lot of work to do to train young Bahrainis that can fill the jobs in the private sector.
Recently, some GCC governments, including Saudi Araba, made some professions a no-go area for expats. This protectionist approach doesn’t seem to bring economic progress, say analysts. It lowers productivity because the local workforce at the moment doesn’t appear to be efficient in handling the businesses and that some training needs to be given well in advance. Otherwise it is going to be mere matters of employment rather than productivity, the analysts add.
Late last year, the Saudi government instructed all mobile repair shops to be run by Saudis. What happened next? Most shops closed as there was no more local workforce that can replace the expats.
Economists say that governments should invest on education and develop their human capital and prepare the young for employment. At the end of the day, the training will make them competitive professionals and be able to compete in any job vacancy. This fitted into the vision of His Royal Highness Prime Minster Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, who has advocated training Bahrainis in such a way that they become competitive and employable. The number of current vocational training, institutions and rehabilitation programmes set up in the country are living witnesses of the Premier’s initiative.
In his recent interview, Bahraini Labour Affairs Under-Secretary Sabah Al Dossary emphasised that Bahrain, unlike the Saudi move, has no plans to reserve certain professions to Bahrainis. He said that “Bahrain’s economy is free and depends on the principle of competitiveness.” This is the right model of development and progress. In the long run, the policy of training young Bahrainis will witness thousands of competitive job applicants ready to handle jobs of various professions.
Amid the population growth and plummeting of oil prices, Bahrain, like other GCC countries, will witness high rates of youth unemployment. To control such a scenario, Bahrain needs to continue its training programmes, making the young competitive and employable by all establishments.
The policy seems to be holding, which is why the unemployment rate in the kingdom remains more or less constant, despite the increase in the number of youngsters entering the labour force every year.