With a population approaching 40 million, Iraq has a unique advantage over its counterparts in the GCC region, says Robin Mills, CEO, Qamar Energy, and Senior Fellow, Iraq Energy Institute, emphasising that this means the country will not be reliant on expatriates for its workforce. That said, Mills admits that Iraq faces its own set of challenges, having gone through several wars that disrupted the socio-economic dynamics of a nation, rendering many people unemployed. Harry Istepanian, Senior Fellow, Iraq Energy Institute, and an independent power consultant based in Washington D.C., USA, puts the unemployment number between 20 and 30%.
Istepanian stresses that the massive gap in unemployment can be addressed through greater support for the construction sector, which is highly labour-intensive and creates a requirement for builders, electricians, plumbers and engineers. Dr Tarik Al-Omran, Professor, Material Sciences, Baghdad University, points out that while Iraq has the required human capital of engineers, technical people and workers, there is a dire need of retraining them to update knowledge when it comes to technical innovations and standards.
Another issue that Mills identifies is the lack of skills owing to the generational gap. While the older generation in their 60s and 70s have a lot of international knowledge and expertise, he says, there is a gap in the mid-career people ,who underwent a difficult period in Iraq owing to the war. Timothy McLaren, Senior Commercial Contracts Engineer, Ramboll, adds that many of the other skilled and educated people also opted to leave the country and, having set up roots in other countries, are not willing to go back. Mills says this aggravates the situation, as it is harder to pass on the relevant knowledge and training to develop skills of the youth.
Dr Al-Oman says the government is looking to address the issue by integrating youth skills in the national agenda. However, he says, this is largely confined to colleges, universities and institutions. He believes, however, there is scope for private companies and manufacturers in the field of HVACR or construction to also contribute by spearheading training and programmes under engineering colleges, to develop more specialsied skill sets among the younger generation.
McLaren adds there is a wealth of opportunity to benefit mutual parties in this regard, pointing out that much of the youth are simply not being given the option to learn skills for “an honest day’s work”, be it installing pipes or doing drywall. “That country is untapped human capital that never left,” he stresses, “and they have a strong urge to have a job and support the family.” McLaren says that with the growing movement towards digitilisation, there is a lot of stigma surrounding manual labour, as more of the youth get into the field of business or technology. This, he says, makes technically skilled and specially trained people in the field of construction a precious commodity. “Somebody still has to build something,” he says, “you still need people to float the concrete and put the cable in, etc. That workforce could be the next best construction people in the world.” – HJU