We are living in an age of disruption, with fast-paced technological change creating new economic opportunities daily. As such, technical fields, such as engineering, are globally viewed as key to securing future-proof careers with a high growth trajectory.
In the UAE, our leaders recognise this fact and have set targets to improve educational attainment in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) subjects at schools. This is the foundation on which to build a diversified, knowledge-based economy and enhance the competitiveness of our country.
However, the reality is that access continues to be a key barrier for entry to STEM careers in the UAE. According to 3M’s State of Science Index, released late last year, 73 per cent of those who responded in the UAE say that despite wanting to pursue careers in these fields, there is a lack of access to STEM programmes and initiatives, including too few STEM educators/teachers.
How do we bridge this gap between understanding the importance of STEM, and young people making careers in these fields?
Industrial players like Etihad Rail have a significant opportunity and responsibility to take the lead in providing what young people are asking for as they consider their STEM career options. Experienced practitioners in companies like ours can offer a wealth of information and insights. As a result, these companies are front and centre as role models that young people would like to engage with to better understand employment options, not just within our organisation, but also at universities and vocational schools, sharing their expertise with prospective rail practitioners.
Another strong motivation is on-the-job training. At Etihad Rail, we take this responsibility seriously, launching the first of its kind railway diploma in the UAE, a three-year program, in collaboration with ADVETI, Abu Dhabi's Vocational Education and Training Institute, in 2017 to enhance the UAE's rail industry and further create opportunities for young Emirati students to specialise in professions including train captain, train controller, rolling stock technician, system technician, on track equipment operator, and track maintenance operative.
These programmes have, for example, nurtured the UAE’s first Emirati male and female Train Captains and Train Controller – who are an inspiration to young Emiratis in this emerging industry and will pave the path forward for the new generation of young and talented female Emirati engineers.
Students on the cusp of making career choices can also benefit from unique work experiences, as it offers them a glimpse into the real-life benefits of a challenging yet rewarding job in industrials. In addition to our internal training, we have created partnerships with a broad range of organisations with whom we work on arranging regular training programs and workshops led by industry experts, contributing to the quality of their work experience and career development. This includes overseas trips and placements with partners allowing our employees to benefit from world-leading expertise.
We are actively using these examples to recruit Emirati graduates, offering them ample opportunities to develop their technical and business skills in a modern, commercially driven pioneering organization. This exposure is key to correct possible misconceptions about STEM careers and broadens students’ perceptions about their options – providing some insight into the breadth of STEM work.
While these measures may seem common sense, there is a need to do more of this as an industry and a country. As industrial players, we must re-double our efforts to encourage young people into STEM careers, to show what it means to be a professional in a science, technology, engineering, or mathematics field. In that way, we are fulfilling our obligation to the nation.
Khulood Al Mazrouei, Head of International Compliance & Relations at Etihad Rail.
With a heart firmly on its sleeve, the UAE sets forth an inspiring narrative of understanding and empathy, striving for a society where everyone finds their rightful place
Education matters. Achievement matters. We need leaders who are willing to say so, and educators who are willing to act like these simple propositions are true.