Despite all the current turbulence and upheaval in Iraq, the Kurdistan Region continues on a path to prosperity and increasing autonomy. However, several long-term constraints remain as obstacles to long term Kurdish progress. Primarily, Kurdistan will need to ensure economic sustainability, especially by gaining guaranteed revenue flow from her new oil production. Allied to this important political issue is the provision of what I call ‘Capital-I Infrastructure’: the vital national foundations required for significant economic growth.
One of the main requirements of any growing, new economy is the development of a skilled workforce. This is no small challenge and one that other regional oil boomers have solved by imported labor. The model used to date in many GCC countries has seen cheap skilled labor imported as a workforce with expat consultants providing technical and executive management. This has proved a short-term success but one that has implications for local employment and long-term sustainability. These two issues are ones that the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) seems keen to address, not least as its ambitious young populous need employment and not in the already over-burdened public sector. However, the only way this will happen is for a systematic campaign of both regulatory and physical action to ensure enduring workforce development by all parties involved.
Regulatory reform will be the catalyst for physical action, and the KRG should now address three key areas of regulatory enforcement:
1.National standards (provisional or long-term) must be swiftly identified and stated by the relevant Ministries. As importantly, these standards must also be enforced and audited to ensure compliance in both the private and public sectors. Alignment in part or whole with accepted international standards will aid collective ‘buy in’ and save valuable time. An example would be the use of NEBOSH in HSE as the national standard, even if it is termed as a Kurdish system aligned to NEBOSH. A key driver is the need for commonality in areas such as competency and skills lest multiple terms and taxonomy emerge for the same skill. This is likely to add to the confusion and inefficiency later on if not addressed now.
2.The workforce need to be encouraged to remain in organizations that invest in them and not to depart with newly won qualifications to the highest bidder. This practice discourages investment in development as it is seen as a risk. Again, regulatory best practice exists in many Gulf countries to constrain employees once an employment is secured in order to protect both employers and the national economic good. A system used successfully in other countries is one of repayment of training costs if an employee leaves a post before a certain time bar date. Another is to license all employees and thus movement is controlled and an employer who wishes to protest against ‘staff poaching’ can do so with national support.
3.Workforce development schemes such as Competency Management Systems should be required of all medium and major scale organizations in both public and private sector. Without such a requirement, staff development is currently seen by some as a lower priority than short-term profit margins. There is best practice available today from Kurdistan companies such as Gulf Keystone, whose industry leading Competency Based Framework is already repaying the investment with increased staff productivity, loyalty and contentment.
So how would such enforcement work without too much red tape and legal concerns? I expect that a national communication campaign would help to encourage all to support the economy by playing his or her part responsibly in the emerging future prosperity. We are all aware of how far Kurdistan has come in a decade but we must also remain mindful of how the culture of employment and competency development has had to almost start afresh in a short timeframe. As a practitioner and observer in much of Kurdistan’s tremendous success to date, I think that the use of external best practice and expertise in the Ministries to quickly bring about such regulatory change will then enshrine workforce development as a major factor in the security of Kurdistan’s economic progress and growth. Without it, the future looks less secure. Short-term gains will be made but the unease amongst unemployed young Kurds, as well as the lack of wealth distribution through career jobs, will bring a whole new set of distractions for an already busy KRG. In summary, I believe that Kurdistan has a decision to make–and soon–on a national strategic plan for its workforce and how to then deliver that operationally. Our own experience tells us that it can be done rapidly and that the Kurdistan Workforce not only thirsts for professional Competency Development but also enjoys hard work. Those two aspects normally guarantee a major foundation for economic growth, especially with such abundance in extractive resources. These measures will only need a small amount of resources to set in motion, but the return on that visionary investment will see swift rewards and increased economic sustainability and political security in the decades ahead.