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Monday, 6 December 2021

Upskilling white collar labor in Egypt to get ahead

Is upskilling the missing link for Egypt’s white collar job market? A new study (pdf) out of Nexford University — a fully online institution that works to encourage skill development and create a global learning community through technology — found that the vast majority (78%) of employers in Egypt report difficulties in finding skilled white collar employees. The study’s findings, which are based on a survey of employers from multinationals and large local companies employing upwards of 1k people, indicate that employers and employees need to continuously invest in building a culture of ongoing learning to stay competitive.

The responses mesh with what you, dear Enterprise reader, have told us: Finding and retaining talented employees was the most pressing challenge facing businesses, our 2020 Enterprise Reader Survey found. The challenge appeared to be growing y-o-y, after being cited as the fourth-biggest issue for businesses in the previous year’s edition of our survey.

These findings are also consistent with global trends: The WEF’s Jobs Reset Summit reported last year that 50% of employees would need reskilling by 2025, with critical thinking and problem solving topping the list of required skills.

The need for upskilling existing employees: Nexford’s survey found that 51% of employers think at least 20% of their employees need upskilling — and 53% said they would consider sponsoring them.

A lack of skilled entry-level workers means hiring overqualified employees — and high employee turnover: 70% of employers would hire entry-level candidates if they were more job-ready, which is consistent with trends seen across Africa, Nexford University founder and CEO Fadl Al Tarzi (LinkedIn) explained to Enterprise. Because finding talents with the right skills is so difficult, employers often hire overqualified candidates for the job who quickly find themselves unfulfilled in their roles, creating a vicious cycle of employee turnover. Critically, the study found that the effects of hiring the wrong person last for at least 18 months.


What makes a potential employee attractive? 80% of employers consider MBA graduates more job-ready compared to those without an MBA, with 60% reporting that they would hire more MBA graduates if they could. “This challenges the idea that college credentials are no longer required,” says Al Tarzi, noting that the dearth of qualified talent is creating a market where employers are “so desperate” that they are willing to hire candidates without a college degree if they have the right skills.

One skill that was found to be largely missing from the hiring pool was business analytics, with more than half of employers reporting that they found it “hard” or “very hard” to recruit people with that skill. Other skills that were lacking included digital transformation (45%) and digital marketing (37%).

Existing teams are lacking soft skills: Some 40% of employers reported shortages in creative thinking, 37% in time management and 28% in problem solving. Critical thinking and teamwork / collaboration were also found to be lacking. Although these are global challenges, with Al Tarzi noting that increasing reliance on tech is making people more formulaic in their approaches and diminishing creative thinking, they are especially acute in Egypt. He notes that even in the startup sector, traditionally seen as the forefront of innovation and creativity, many companies are just adopting formulas rather than innovating.

It’s not just trouble with hiring: Skill gaps undermining the efficacy of technology investments is also a common complaint among employers, with 62% of survey respondents pointing to this issue. Many companies report that digital literacy continues to be a challenge as they try to stay competitive in an increasingly digitized market. Even companies that are looking to upskill in these areas are reluctant to invest in technology because they feel they don’t have the skills to deploy it.


Banks, telcos and hospitality need the most upskilling: Banks and telecoms are one of the largest consumers of education, with both sectors having very specific needs in digital marketing and customer service. The hospitality sector is witnessing a new wave of demand for skills in areas like communication and digital marketing.

Organizations that need technical talent struggle to scale without investing in education, with pharma being one of the top sectors to invest in education, largely because of the need for white collar pharma employees to have technical knowledge and bridge the large gaps in their sales and business skills.

The key is to build a culture of education and encourage employees to identify their own gaps, making ongoing learning a shared responsibility between employers and employees with employees facilitating the process. Al Tarzi notes that meaningful education should be part of the portfolio of employee benefits if they want to stay competitive. Most employers rely on ad hoc development plans rather than ongoing upskilling programs and lack tax incentives to invest in their employees. He notes that incentives can include having career path KPIs that enable employees to better fulfill their roles or giving people paid time off to invest in their learning and development.

There will be missed windows if we fail to upskill: From an economic mobility perspective, there is plenty for Egyptian companies to capitalize on if they invest in upskilling, increasing the USD inflows into Egypt each year. “If we look at global economic potential, we can deliver a very significant social and economic impact if we upskill,” says Al Tarzi, noting that disruptions in some industries mean that we will get left behind if we don’t upskill. But our current education system and learning climate does not encourage that, nor are employers talking about it. Al Tarzi notes that a lifelong learning mindset is the most valuable asset that an employee can bring to any organization.

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