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Aruba, September 25, 2012 - Almost two years on from the Arab Spring and youth unemployment remains the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region’s biggest problem, according to Saud Masud, chief executive of consultancy group SM Advisory. Labor force participation rates are much below the global average, he said, with Middle East and North Africa at around 46 percent versus the global average of around 66 percent. One of the main challenges, according to Masud, is a lack of essential skills among the region’s labor markets.

“The real issue here is that you can’t generate jobs by throwing money at it and you can’t generate jobs buy just subsidising any type of on demand job generation programme. The real challenge is skills mismatch,” he told CNN’s John Defterios. “What you have here is people graduating from schools and colleges but they don’t have the marketable or the employable skills to really compete globally or even domestically.”

Governments, particularly among the wealthy Gulf states, are still relying on foreign workers to plug their countries’ skills gap, Masud said, a situation which can hide the problem of a lack of local talent.

“Saudi Arabia for example is looking to advance its economy, to build its infrastructure, to really look at an evolution of the market itself, [but] it is really still relying on foreign talent, [and] a lot of the foreign resources, because the local talent doesn’t have the skill set as of yet,” said Masud.

“We’ve had decades and decades of wealth accumulation and surpluses in economies which are characterised as high income economies but fundamentally there has been a mismatch between what the true potential of the country can be, and what the local talent is being trained to do. So that really is the key friction point as we stand today.”

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