The Iraqi authorities will need to overcome an acute labour shortage if the reconstruction of the country is to be swift and successful. Despite high levels of urban and rural unemployment, Iraq suffers from a severe lack of skilled professionals, adequately equipped to work with modern technologies.
In the 1970s, Baghdad’s education system was the envy of the region, churning out high-quality engineers, doctors and scientists. But in the three decades of war and sanctions that followed thousands of skilled workers fled the country and the education sector was starved of further investment.
Consequently, the quality of teaching has slipped, schools are overcrowded and deprived of essential classroom equipment, and students are graduating with a sub-standard education.
International oil companies have privately commented that local engineers have knowledge from a bygone era, with techniques such as enhanced oil recovery unheard of and basic IT skills lacking. But with billions of dollars of investment needed to revive all sectors of the economy, hundreds of new jobs will need to be filled over the next couple of years.
Foreign investors will transfer some staff to the country, but the local labour market has a crucial role to play. Attracting Iraqis back from overseas is one solution to the problem, but this can only go so far in addressing the human resources challenge.
A coordinated intensive vocational training programme that brings job seekers’ skills up scratch should be executed in tandem with the National Development Plan and in this way the government will be able to plug major gaps before they occur.