Unleash Human Capability – Translating Education Achievements into Labour Productivity in the GCC

Posted by Annamarie Lawrence

As Saudi welcomes the world to their much-anticipated Human Capability Initiative 2024, it is an opportunity to think about what Human Capability actually means in the context of our education and skills work at Tribal Middle East to help governments translate education inputs into national outcomes. Look at any one of the ambitious GCC countries’ national vision documents and you will see the central role of developing national citizens to lead to innovation, creativity and national economic development as they diversify their revenue streams away for energy. While the term ‘Human Capability’ may inspire images of high achieving aspirations, such as a national space programme or inventing the next big social media platform, the foundation for any high achievement starts with Human Capability shaped through education and skills development.

Education Growth

The countries of the GCC have long understood this importance, as demonstrated by the significant growth in the access and enrolment of education across the region in the past 20 years, with an increase in the number of students graduating from secondary and tertiary education programmes. According to the World Bank, the average gross enrolment ratio in secondary education in the GCC region is 81%, exceeding the global average of 75%. Additionally, the number of university graduates in the region is growing, with an increasing focus on advanced fields like science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). For example, in Saudi Arabia, the number of university graduates more than doubled in the past 20 years. Similarly, in the UAE, the number of students enrolled in tertiary education programs has more than doubled in the past decade. To keep up with demand for education, the GCC governments have increased their spending on education with Kingdom of Saudi Arabia significantly increasing spending by about 17% of the total budget, the highest in the GCC. All GCC countries spend more of their budget on education than most European countries.

The Value of Scholarships

Another key investment by most GCC countries that is now starting to bear fruit are the government-initiated scholarship programs that sends thousands of GCC students abroad annually to acquire advanced degrees and skills. In Saudi Arabia, the King Abdullah Scholarship Program, for instance, has sent more than 200,000 students to study in over 30 countries since its inception in 2005. Many of these graduates who are now in important positions across the Kingdom and bring with them their international experiences to apply to Saudi public and private sector jobs. Similarly, scholarship programmes from all GCC countries have supported talented young nationals to study and work abroad and return equipped with an understanding of international good practice to apply to jobs at home.

Agencies of Change

While most agree the investments in education are going to lead to long term positive outcomes for GCC countries, what about those already in work? The gap between education and the labour market is a global challenge, especially with the advancement of digitalisation. The GCC countries have all taken action in their own way to put in place proactive policies to upskill and reskill those in work. In Saudi Arabia the establishment of the systems to better support the development of those in work are apparent. Under the governance of the Education and Training Evaluation Commission (ETEC) the Saudi National Qualification Framework provides a structure for ensuring quality and consistency of work based learning and training across the country. ETEC also monitor the quality assurance of training delivery and attainment and ensure robust skills-based assessments are a part of all upskilling initiatives. Likewise in Saudi Arabia, the Technical and Vocational Training Corporation (TVTC) are a pivotal national agency responsible for supporting the development of vocational education and training across Saudi Arabia through employer aligned institutions and initiatives.

Measuring Success

The strategic role of the agencies that support the national skills systems cannot be understated. With clear standards for quality in vocational education, work-based learning and upskilling/reskilling through training, these agencies are at the forefront of leading the practical application of Human Capability Development Program initiatives that will have a direct impact on the labour market and productivity. But how do they translate education and skill investments into measurable national outcomes? It is well understood that long term positive impact of human capital investments will eventually result in an increase in various economic indicators, such as labour market productivity and GDP, but how do the GCC countries know they are on the right track and monitor progress in the short term?

Download a selection of bite-size papers to inform GCC policy

How Tribal Can Help

While there is no short answer for this, Tribal Middle East has had the privilege of working with GCC governments in various ways to help monitor different parts of the national education and skills systems. Our work has been both strategic and operational with our team of education practitioners supporting the implementation and ongoing monitoring of national education and skills systems through the following work:

  1. School inspections – the national monitoring of the quality of teaching and learning in schools across a number of different indicators outlined on a national inspection framework is a key national tool for monitoring and evaluating the progress of education.
  2. Strategic programme reviews for the training sector– For upskilling and reskilling to be successful, alignment with national ambitions is essential for all providers of training. Tribal can support this alignment with a strategic audit of programs and capability assessment to support national ambitions.
  3. Skills based assessments – A system of measuring skill attainment through training or work based learning is critical to accurately report on progress. Tribal’s practitioners can support agencies implementing national programmes to design of work-based assessment where real work is used to support evidence of learning in a qualifications to demonstrate achievement of skills identified as critical in national skill gaps studies. Trainers need to also be upskilled on applied and work based assessment techniques that may include: observations, professional discussion, portfolio of evidence and other skills based assessment methods.
  4. Working with employers on working at sector level to align performance management systems with training programmes and assessments. This alignment of employer led standards is at the core of national apprenticeship systems across all levels, including degree apprenticeships.
  5. Higher Education reviews and work integrated skill based learning – With employers saying graduates don’t have the skills the labour market needs, higher education reviews measure a number of different quality assurance areas of institutions and programmes, including engaging with employers and the labour market and embedding skills into higher education programming to ensure graduate outcomes
  6. National policy / programme evaluation – Using methodologies recognised by the UNDP and the World Bank, Tribal Middle East can support agencies in conducting an evaluation of the progress of a national programme to ensure the intentions of the programme are being realised.
  7. National Capacity Building – Through effective knowledge transfer techniques such as coaching, shadowing and training Tribal Middle East can support any aspect of the education and skills quality assurance, improvement, monitoring and impact assessment.

Translating education into labour productivity is a long-term outcome that requires a significant number of steps along the way. The progress so far in the GCC is phenomenal. As we think about human capability in the GCC context, we can see the valuable work needed to support regional agencies in showcasing and reporting on change and progression. Tribal Middle East will continue to be a strategic partner to GCC governments and agencies through supporting the development of education and skills systems at scale.


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