Empowering talent to drive UAE’s digital economy

The UAE federal government and many of the respective Emirates have been among the first in the world to realise the transformative power of digitisation

By Prof. Sameh Ghwanmeh

Published: Tue 1 Mar 2022, 11:19 PM

The UAE has been making great strides in building a competitive knowledge-based economy that transitions from a historically fossil-based economy.

The advancement of information and communication technologies (ICT) has been vital to this success, enabling the nation to respond rapidly to emerging opportunities and to stand resilient against market disruptions.

Yet like the rest of the world, the UAE needs to compete for an acute shortage of digital talent—individuals who are specialized in the advanced technologies that are defining our future economic outlook.

To succeed in this endeavour, collaboration among academia, industry, and government is the only viable model to produce the skilled workforce that the UAE requires. Today, we can see specific domains where demand for tech talent is at its highest, and where the potential for new value creation is equally great.

This is perhaps most evident in digital government and public services. The UAE federal government and many of the respective Emirates have been among the first in the world to realise the transformative power of digitisation.

The UAE’s National Digital Transformation Committee has been responsible for orchestrating the approach that addresses the role of technology in the design and implementation of government activities at the national level.

Although the “digital by design” government model has matured in the UAE, the space continues to evolve. Emerging applications in blockchain, AI, and cyber defense are constantly being developed, and are increasingly relevant for public services as more applications and data are put online.

In addition, urban centres in the UAE are quickly transitioning into more intelligent and sustainable cities. These cities are in part marked by the public’s access to smart education systems, connected transport networks, mobile finance applications, and related services. The Internet of Things (IoT), just one component of most smart cities, has been estimated to have a potential economic impact of up to $11 trillion annually by 2025, according to estimates by McKinsey Global Institute.

But these smart cities also encompass many other applications that enhance environmental sustainability. Energy resources management, water treatment systems, and related fields are being redefined through the application of advanced digital and power technologies. These are being developed in line with the UAE Energy Strategy 2050 in which the nation is actively adopting the transition from fossil fuel-based power generation to green energy.

In looking at specific verticals within a smart city, it is imperative that we also recognise the fundamental shifts happening in education. We all saw how the pandemic accelerated the digitisation of academic systems.

Nearly every school now uses some form of online education platform, with the more ambitious institutions adopting virtual reality, augmented reality, and other immersive technologies. This is a perfect example of an industry wherein it is not only sufficient to have strong IT strategists and support teams, but to empower everyone across the organization—in this case, teachers and students—with digital skills.

In any of these scenarios, be it e-government or smart education, we must ask: what are the skills needed to empower people of the UAE to benefit from digital progress?

For one, any computer graduate today should ideally have some proficiency in artificial intelligence. AI has implications for virtually every sector. Its practitioners are some of the most sought-after experts, with immense demand as far as the eye can see. AI is also a highly dynamic field. It requires advanced technical talent in addition to problem-solving skills and the ability to work in multidisciplinary domains.

Second, expertise in “intelligent systems” will be a highly coveted talent in years to come. Large sectors of the economy are being automated, and more people, services, and devices are being connected at an astonishing rate. As just one example, several emirates have already announced plans for autonomous cars. Talent with mastery in managing these automated, intelligent systems will find themselves in highly rewarding careers. Particularly those who can gather and analyse big data from across various systems.

From advanced robotics to cloud computing, cyber forensics, and blockchain, there really is an enormous field of skill sets to cover.

In the end, the only way to address today’s talent crunch is by academics collaborating with industry, government, and technology companies themselves. The latter group is particularly significant. Companies like Huawei, for example, have long offered partnerships to UAE academia through their talent competitions, academies, and e-learning tools. Such programs not only benefit academic institutions, but the nation’s entire ICT ecosystem by enhancing theoretical knowledge and preparing students to solve real-world issues more effectively.

The digital talent gap is still wide. But we’re not alone in this challenge. By exploring new means of open collaboration and knowledge-sharing, competitive jobs and opportunities for innovation will remain a hallmark of the UAE economy.

Prof. Sameh Ghwanmeh is Chancellor at University of Fujairah

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