John Defterios is a CNN anchor and presenter of Marketplace Middle East.
Manama, Bahrain (CNN) -- It is without a doubt one of the most pressing issues for the Middle East region today, described by Queen Rania of Jordan as a "ticking time bomb."
The region has the largest proven oil reserves -- and therefore bankable wealth -- in the world. But it cannot diversify fast enough to generate employment to keep pace with some of the highest birth rates in the world.
Some of the numbers are quite staggering.
A report from the United Nations Development Program a few years ago put youth unemployment at 25 percent, with rates much higher in places like Yemen, Algeria and the Palestinian Territories.
But official, current numbers and analysis are hard to come by.
For example, there is a meeting of labor ministers here in Manama under the umbrella of the Arab Labor Organization. After four attempts at trying to confirm the latest figures and secure their latest report, one throws in the towel.
Let's hope that a similar approach is not taken for those who are frustrated trying to find a job.
A survey this week of 2,000 young Arabs by public relations firm ASDA'A Burson-Marsteller showed that unemployment ranked in the top three biggest concerns for the region's future generation, alongside quality education and the cost of living.
The first two concerns are closely linked. While governments of the Middle East -- the Gulf States in particular -- invest millions of dollars into higher education by often partnering with Western institutions, primary and secondary schools remain in need of modernization.
Business leaders from the Arab world are encouraging governments to do more at a faster clip so that there is a match between what is being taught and what is needed on the job.
The Arab Business Council released a study indicating that the region needs to create 100 million new jobs in the next decade for the unemployment rate to stay at the same level. That figure has government leaders investing rapidly to deal with the challenge.
Here in Bahrain, the government is coming up with new approaches to re-train their workforce.
One program is earmarking money paid by employers for foreign worker permits into a fund for skills training.
One thing that certainly stands out here is the willingness by Bahrainis to work at all levels of society -- hotel clerks, taxi drivers and other service jobs are being filled by locals as well as the higher paying white collar jobs, which help build a middle class.
That approach is unusual in the Middle East.
Often underreported in the Middle Eastern statistics is the level of underemployment.
According to the ASDA'A Burson-Marsteller survey, there are four million college graduates each year in the region, but the job market can only absorb 10 percent of them.
Either they choose to take non-skilled employment or they go outside the region and often never come back. Neither prospect helps support long term development or future job creation.