Dubai is in a state of permanent reinvention. But Digbijoy Hui says that developing the skills of the emirate’s citizens, is just as significant as its ever-evolving skyline
Look, I’ll admit that Dubai in July is not for everyone.
It’s hot – very hot. It’s quiet – many residents tend to seek out cooler foreign climes. And its downsides – such as a high cost of living and the relentlessly hectic pace of life – do not pause for summer. And yet it remains a city I am proud to call home.
I arrived from my native India in 2008 and since then I’ve travelled extensively – for both work and pleasure – and yet I’ve never experienced anywhere quite like it. More than anywhere I have visited, Dubai embraces its status as a work in progress.
I’m not just thinking of the cranes which adorn every city block, mind you. Nor the world first developments like the Palm Island or Burj al Arab (which really has to be seen to be believed), or even the numerous plans and strategies churned out by the city’s leaders. I’m actually thinking about the city’s collective mindset: to live in Dubai is to experience a way of life that is constantly seeking out new ways of doing things.
When I first arrived I relied on buses and taxis to get around – the first section of the city’s driverless metro system only opened a year or so later – but I distinctly remember seeing a banner which read: "Dubai is a map that changes every single day". I couldn’t have put it better myself.
But that doesn’t mean we don’t have our share of challenges – and I’m thinking of our population’s skills, in particular.
A modern day melting pot
One of the many things I love about Dubai is the sheer variety of different nationalities who live here. Partly this is down to its geographic location as a crossroads between East and West. But it’s also about how the city – and United Arab Emirates (UAE) as a whole – has managed to attract people from all over the world (myriad professional opportunities and all-year-round sunshine have proven a heady mix).
Today, about 80% of the population are expats, a staggering number but it’s one that also portends some potential long-term issues. That’s because we can’t always rely on international talent over the long-term.
The UAE is in the process of diversifying its economy, with the country as a whole remaining heavily reliant on revenues from petroleum and natural gas. While this generates significant income, it is essentially its people who will deliver long-term prosperity over future generations.
Planning for the future
So, why is investing in people so important? Well, as pointed out by the World Bank, skills development can help boost employment, increase productivity, and improve standards of living. With advances such as artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things and quantum computing ricocheting all around us, skills such as problem-solving and critical thinking, as well as interpersonal skills like empathy and collaboration, will all be in high demand for the future workforce. These skills deliver economic value since a knowledgeable workforce will help increase productivity and efficiency.
Investment in human capital has been highlighted as one of the key pillars for the economic strategies of many states in the region. For example, Saudi Arabia’s Vision2030 highlights skills as a key building block in its drive to build “a thriving economy”. The UAE is no different. From the energy sector to high-tech industries to the arts, companies have been encouraged to invest in developing local talent for the future.
For example, the UAE’s Advanced Skills Strategy identifies four main categories: basic skills, competencies, personality traits and specialised skills to provide life-long learners and students with flexible skills applicable along different professions and sectors.
The Advanced Skills Strategy, however, is just one of numerous plans pertaining to all things skills. The National Innovation Strategy focuses on renewable energy, transport, education, health, technology, water and space.
Then there’s the National Strategy for Advanced Innovation, which includes skills as one of its key priorities, and not forgetting the National Employment Strategy 2031, which aims to empower labour productivity and provide national human resources with the skills required for the labour market. And these are just a few of the national strategies floating about – there are plenty more.
Talk to action
While the prevalence of these strategies are a testament to the seriousness that the government is taking the skills agenda, it will be important to ensure that these plans are deployed coherently – the last thing we need is for them to be deployed in silos which will end up diluting their collective impact.
When will we know if they have been a success? Well, let’s use the example of data scientists. Right now, we need them in Dubai but we currently have to attract them from around the world.
But if some of the kids who attend the school just down the road from my house grow up to join this profession, they will be UAE-trained, from school to university.
Hopefully, if all goes well, they will be joined by hundreds of thousands more of their fellow UAE citizens, a human army of highly skilled professionals whose creativity and dedication will augment the infrastructure and innovation for which the city is famous for.
About the author
Digbijoy Hui is UAE Account Manager at BAE Systems Applied Intelligence
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