Boston Consulting Group (BCG), a global business consulting firm, recently published a study titled ‘Motivation and Perseverance: The Missing Link to GCC Knowledge Economies’. The firm focused on the message it repeatedly heard while working with companies in the region – the key challenge employers see with young GCC nationals is that in part there is a lack of some of the necessary knowledge, skills and competencies, but that is not the main problem.
“As many of these skills and competencies can often be developed on the job, the bigger challenge for employers is that they are not finding enough young job seekers with the character skills they are looking for – ones who will take initiative, work on tasks autonomously and who will flexibly adapt to a changing environment and new challenges. In other words, there is an underdevelopment of certain critical character skills, particularly the motivation to push for results and to adapt and persevere when facing challenges,” the study pointed out.
The latter is a challenge that has come increasingly into focus in the region, and the researchers tried to get to the bottom of the issue. “So, if the GCC youth has a gap in these dimensions to the extent that it prevents employment, this begs the question what the underlying issues are that are driving this gap, what we have done to address them and whether this has been working,” the report said.
While knowledge skills and competencies are skills that are typically learnt in the classroom environment or in vocational training – reading, mathematics, accounting, problem solving, critical thinking, collaboration and the like – for character skills what is in focus is motivation, which is a combination of the basic drive to achieve something (intrinsic motivation) and the ability to prolong this drive over time and through setbacks (patience, self-control and resilience).
The study found that there is a lack of emphasis on motivation, grit and persistence in the GCC’s wider environment and that youth is lacking the personal traits that make us capable of achieving both professional and personal success. There is urgent need to further develop these amongst GCC youth, the study stressed.
BCG’s study identified three major challenges for the GCC: not integrating the development of grit, persistence and resilience sufficiently into the educational system, countries tending to be overly reliant on using incentives to affect behaviour and insufficient support from the GCC youth’s role models.
The report said there are too few adequate and meaningful career services and work experiences like internships in schools and children aren’t given the opportunity to explore the working world, governments in the GCC offer numerous incentives and an extensive safety net, thus the youth are not encouraged to take risks and so do not learn to deal with setbacks and failure, and there is no push from family, community leaders and wider society for working hard to get a good private sector job, which provides greater opportunities in the long run.
From the cradle on
The study acknowledges that developing character qualities is a lifelong effort and must be addressed throughout childhood, during education and at work, and calls for a wider social change. The authors point to the all-encompassing approach that has to start early on. Building the fundamental building blocks of grit, perseverance and resilience must begin in early childhood by instilling basic behaviours like independence, self-discipline and peacefulness, they say.
The approach to teaching in primary school needs to be adjusted to intentionally include activities like group projects where students experience failure, so that they learn to recover, regroup and reiterate. Amongst some ‘quick wins’ that can be set up more quickly are setting up work experience programmes at schools and universities as well as career counselling services – in close collaboration with industry.
Additionally, on-the-job trainings directed at improving perseverance and resilience could help improve job retention. Specifically, more tactical training around how to structure plans to achieve long-term goals related to their responsibilities would help young employees feel more invested in creating and maintaining their own path, the study states.
Asked about the biggest challenge in changing the mindsets and behaviours the study suggests, Dr Leila Hoteit, a partner and managing director at BCG Middle East, said: “Social change starts at home. Today, parents juggle many demands on their time but they still have a responsibility to serve as strong and supportive role models for their children.
Sometimes, small changes can make a big difference. Take family mealtimes, for example: the dinner table is no place for a smartphone or tablet and so, instead of staying glued to these devices to check their emails or browse the internet, parents should use this time to ask their children about their day at school or college and congratulate them on a good academic achievement or impressive report card.
Similarly, while work commitments can sometimes intrude upon family time, it is really important for parents to attend their kids’ football matches, for example, or any other after-school sports activities. Parents should take advantage of every opportunity to convey a strong appreciation of their children’s most deserving accomplishments – i.e. those based on merit and hard work.”
Dr Hoteit believes that teachers in the GCC are fortunate as their school activities are underpinned by an educational infrastructure that far exceeds many other systems around the world. She sees their biggest challenge rooted in curriculums that do too little to promote key character traits such as motivation, grit, and persistence.
We need more emphasis on sporting competitions and more group activities where students experience failure so they can learn to recover and try again.
In addition, we need teachers and schools to engage parents and explain to them the importance of building these critical traits in their children. In parallel, policymakers and community leaders will have to do their part and recognise this issue so that they can take the necessary steps to address it. There is no time to wait,” she warns.
The report notes that the GCC is “…a culture where domestic support is abundant and nannies often don’t push young children to do tasks themselves (for instance getting dressed in the morning) but rather do these tasks for them until a late age.” It is an unspoken rule that parents leave the upbringing of their children in major part to nannies.
Is it in any way realistic to expect nannies to demand more of children? Would parents allow it? “I know from my own personal experience that providing nannies with clear guidance and direction is essential. For example, we have a rule at home that my children are not allowed to use an iPad during the week.
They know – and their nanny knows – that this matter is simply non-negotiable. Meals are also key: parents need to be clear about what food their children should be eating and when they should be eating each meal.”
It is important to recognise, Dr Hoteit says, that there is no problem with nannies being seen as part of the family. On the contrary, the key challenge is more about ensuring that parents step up so they can be fully involved in the care of their children.
“This is about quality time rather than “quantity time”. Even stay-at-home parents are not guaranteed to be as involved as they could or should be. Parents need to take responsibility and avoid an over-reliance on domestic help, which is all-too-frequent in the GCC region.”
The potential motivation
Abdulla Al-Mansoori, Qatar Career Fair director at Qatar Foundation, disagrees with the notion of unmotivated youth. “My personal and long experience in working with Qatari youth, namely in relation to career guidance, professional development and youth activities, contrary to any other belief or findings, has undoubtedly persuaded me that the youth already have the needed character traits and motivation, yet these are in a state of potentiality.
In other terms, the youth have the needed predispositions vis-à-vis the requirements of a knowledge-based economy, yet what they really lack is an adequate and progressive set of “activating forces and catalysts”, forces that can transform and mould their “raw potential” into a set of skills and competencies that would eventually feed into the building blocks of a knowledge-based economy.”
Commenting on employers not finding a sufficient number of qualified candidates with the right character skills, Al-Mansoori sees the issue as characteristic for young people throughout the world. “As to their ability to develop the requisite capabilities on the job, this is very true, and it links to what I have mentioned above about the “activating forces and catalysts”.
That being said, and due to the nature of Qatar’s demography whereby the national working force is quantitatively restricted, let alone the experienced and qualified one, scarcity indeed is the overarching labour market concern for Qatar, rather than creating career opportunities.
Based on this, while most world economies are faced with the harsh challenge of making jobs and opportunities for their citizens, Qatar’s biggest challenge should be the “Optimization/Rationalization of its Restricted Human Capital”. It dictates that Qatari nationals in general and the youth in specific should be properly equipped and adequately career-guided/developed to minimise career/job shifting and even “hopping”.
Qatar Chamber launched a research initiative – carried out by Oxford Strategic Consulting – to help maximise the development of Qatari talent, with a specific focus on the private sector.
Employers and over 100 Qatari respondents, aged 16 – 21 were interviewed. The resulting report titled ‘Maximising Qatari Talent’, presented very interesting findings on motivation factors regarding employment, which support the BCG’s conclusions, but with a twist.
Out of those 100 youth, 80 percent aspired to a governement role, and 12 percent were eyeing semi-government institutions; 4 percent respectively named locally owned business and self-employment as their career goal. NONE wanted to work in the multinational private company.
In the light of obvious unmotivation towards working in the private sector, the report stated:
“Many young people believe that private sector roles are less meaningful than government roles. They are seen as lower status, harder work and less well paid. They believe that a government desk job is the ‘best career’.”
The findings suggest a general impression amongst some Qataris that the private sector is of low status.
Moreover, young Qataris believe the academic path required for a job in the sector is too difficult, the report added.
In other words, motivation in itself might not be that problematic, it is simply that youth is not motivated to work in the private sector.
The study also revealed a huge gap in perceptions of the national workforce between employers and future employees. Asked about what factors motivate Qatari nationals the most, employers said it was money (75 percent), easy life (57 percent) and pride (47 percent), while Qatari youth named challenge (48 percent), contributing to society (46 percent) and devlopment and influence (38 percent) as most important motivators.
There were big discrepancies on the appeal of organizations and the workplace as well. While 46 percent of youth said they were most looking forward to work/life balance when entering the workforce, employers saw it as the most important thing Qataris are looking for (90 percent), followed by salary and benefits package (88 percent of employers, 32 percent of students) and prestige (67 percent of employers, 26 percent of students).
Making my father proud
Oxford Strategic Consulting then focuses on the employers’ part in redirecting Qatari talent to the private job market and states:
“Government jobs are attractive, but the private sector does not do enough to understand the benefits of hiring nationals versus expatriates or to explain to young nationals why they should not opt for a perceived comfortable, easy and worthwhile role in the public sector”.
“The private sector should compete on rapid career progression, challenge, excitement and variety as well as serving the country and ‘making my father proud’.
If one looks at statistics, government job being the best option is not just a perception, but a fact of life. So ‘serving the country’ and ‘making my father proud’ will have to serve as the strongest arguments for young people to take on a private company job. This in turn implies a change not just in youths’ perceptions but in that of wider society, as parents see government jobs as the best option as well.
Asked about how he proposed to instigate that change, Professor William Scott-Jackson, chairman of Oxford Strategic Consulting and research lead for the Maximising Qatari Talent report, told BQ magazine: “It is possible to change the perceptions of the private sector amongst young Qataris as well as their families.
For example, the catering/hotel sector in the UAE was seen as very unattractive for young Emiratis and their parents. Jobs were seen as dirty, demeaning, involving alcohol and having to bow to low level people.
Jumeirah Group changed these perceptions by ensuring everyone realised that the hotel sector was crucial for the nation’s success and therefore had status and was helping the country (H.H. Sheikh Mohammed reinforced this message); taking families and young Emiratis around hotels to show the great roles in management, IT, accounts and so on – you don’t need to have washed up to lead a restaurant; showing that career progress and challenge was much faster than in the public sector with some great opportunities; demonstrating that ‘life-time earnings’ most often beat the public sector due to faster promotion potential and by providing a Hotel University and extremely good education and personal development to global standards.”
The report also proposes a number of actions employers should undertake to attract top national talent. Among them are the following recommendations: Employers should enter the educational system in Qatar at high school or earlier and begin to promote the private sector as the “best career for me”; educational campaigns should position private sector careers as exciting; important for the country and a positive contribution to the modern history of the nation; employers must be more visible in the media with regular, good news stories; students could be contacted early in their education careers and offered mentoring opportunities, internships, graduate schemes and academic scholarships.
While such propaganda would probably work in the long-term, there is a question of employer’s motivation for attracting Qatari employees, especially in the light of above mentioned perceptions and the availability of skilled expat workforce. The answer, again, is the Qatarisation policies and quotas.
However, these can be made by employing administration staff or even shadow workers, not a rare practice as it is. It seems the thing that would most surely bring both parties together, is much higher unemployment and worsening of the population’s economic status. But let us hope this “solution” will not readily present itself.