In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world labour market is witnessing an imbalance in the skills of the workforce, coupled with the swift adoption of technology. The current scenario has fast-tracked the urgency for reskilling and upskilling to prepare the workforce for the future.
It is estimated that the UAE is likely to experience a skill gap worth USD 50 billion by 2030 and 28% of its workforce needs skilling and upskilling. The good news is that UAE can gain USD 4.3 billion, equivalent to 0.6 per cent of its GDP and generate 43,000 additional jobs if it closes the skill gap by 2030.
What steps is the UAE taking in the context of changing the dimensions of reskilling and upskilling? How does the country plan to achieve the scalable impact of its workforce skilling for tomorrow?
These questions were discussed during a recent virtual panel discussion of the SHRM NxT MENA 2021 conference. The panel comprised Mayank Pande, Business Leader International Markets, EdCast; Dr May Laith Naser Al Taee, Learning Technology and Innovation Director, Abu Dhabi School of Government; and Dr Regis Chasse Dean Leadership Institute, Majid Al Futtaim.
Focus on Policy Changes
Mayank Pande began by highlighting the UAE’s distinct socio-economic-political landscape, population break-up and policy structure. He suggested that UAE needs to transition from an oil-based economy to a service-based economy. This will increase focus on innovation, R&D and technological skills in the workforce
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With expatriates constituting 88% of the UAE population, they also dominate its job market. To increase the participation of Emirati residents in the workforce, UAE introduced an Emiratisation policy. It mandates both public and private companies to provide job opportunities to nationals. It also offers incentives to private companies for such collaborations
The Economic Vision 2030 policy document also focuses on the creation of a highly skilled and highly productive workforce by transforming the characteristics of the existing job market. It aims to accomplish this through three objectives – increased national workforce participation and employability, optimised use of the workforce, and enhanced workforce productivity.
Build Public-Private Partnership (PPP) Model
UAE has adopted the PPP model which aims to amalgamate knowledge, expertise, investment and technologies of both government and private entities to prepare its workforce for future skills.
Dr May shared that PPP will help solve the problem of unemployment and skill development by matching job seekers to private jobs, for example, the ‘Abu Dhabi Public Exchange programme’ identifies talented Emirati nationals working as government employees and connects them to top private sector organizations for secondment experiences. This programme takes place across three segments - management, digital and sectorial.
Dr Regis emphasised a strong need for the inclusion of academic institutions in the PPP model as upskilling in times of skills shortage is all about the alignment of supply and demand. Additionally, while upskilling is a practical solution, it calls for experience, business acumen and leadership which the PPP model can address.
The phenomenal acceleration of digital transformation has put extra stress on technologists and data analysts and digital practitioners. So, it is critical to engage in dialogue to identify such gaps in skills and what specific skills are required to meet objectives.
Break Mindset, Technology and Learning Barriers
The Emiratisation program can be effective only when it overcomes the existing barriers to its implementation.
Dr May highlighted that the public sector is trying to change the general perception that Emiratis prefer to work in the government sector after graduation. The government is encouraging its nationals to join the private sector through policy changes and entrepreneurship support.
She also shared that UAE’s academic institutes are unable to keep pace with rapidly changing technology, which acts as a major roadblock to closing the skill gap. They need to upgrade their curriculum to offer foundational skills such as human skills (collaboration, creativity, critical thinking), digital building blocks (data analysis, managing data, cybersecurity, programming) and business enablers (financial acumen, project management). These skills are the backbone of the industrial revolution and future of tomorrow, and the pandemic has only accelerated the need for rapid adoption.
Dr May talked about breaking the barrier of the learning model for upskilling and reskilling. Earlier, the I-shaped model worked well as a single discipline approach to build an employee’s skill in a specific area. Then came the T-shaped model with a focus on acquiring multi-disciplinary knowledge for employees. Today, the need of the hour is an X-shaped model, a trans-disciplinary approach that converges humans and artificial intelligence for the smooth flow of knowledge and agile learning.
Provide Entrepreneurial Boost
UAE is one of the most favourable countries in the world for entrepreneurship. This is proven by the fact that it ranks first in the region and fourth globally in Global Entrepreneurship Index (GEI) 2020.
However, there is scope to develop young entrepreneurship according to Dr Regis. He said that young and budding entrepreneurs lack a suitable environment to pitch their ideas to the private sector. Academic institutes need to initiate programmes that can identify talented Emiratis with leadership traits and help them develop necessary business and technical skills.
Ensure Employability Through Applied Skills
Mayank questioned how far can traditional degrees, certifications, schemes and policies ensure employability.
A diploma is not an accurate predictor of performance on the job – it is just a 1% predictor, shared Dr Regis. Certifications are key to the future as an alternative to traditional credentials. They are application based and help job seekers provide more value to the employer through the transfer of work-ready skills.
Leverage Technology to Make Skilling Scalable
Technology can be a crucial enabler to achieve the scalable impact of skilling through the PPP model, demand-supply equilibrium, incentive building, X-shaped learning model and certifications for proficiency. UAE’s academic institutes have collaborated with content providers to co-create industry-relevant content for job seekers. They have also partnered with Uber, Google, Microsoft and other industry leaders to offer certifications that complement academic knowledge with job readiness skills.
Today’s job seekers are very smart and demand learning anywhere, anytime in a bite-sized format on mobile apps. They are also eager for immersive learning experiences through idea, design and prototype labs and gamification so that they can learn by experience. To meet the learners’ needs, academic institutes need a robust digital base and intelligent content aggregator platforms.
EdCast is one such talent experience platform that aggregates and curates all content under one roof and presents it with learning analytics on dashboards, to customize the learning journey at a mass level.
The key learnings from this session were:
- Strengthen services sectors such as retail, tourism and hospitality for the development of specific skill sets.
- Bridge the gap between the public and private sector to create job and skilling mentorship opportunities in the private sector.
- Introduce robust policy changes to drive innovation, R&D and technological skills in the workforce.
- Accelerate digital transformation initiatives for sustainable and measurable outcomes.
- Encourage nationals to apply for jobs in the private sector and keep an open mindset towards reskilling and upskilling.
- Boost young entrepreneurship to develop their business and technology skills.
- Implement an X-shaped model for trans-disciplinary learning.
- Focus on certifications and immersive learning to develop applied and job-ready skills.
- Technology is the decisive enabler to achieve the scalable impact of skilling for tomorrow.
This panel discussion has underlined that building bridges is the only solution to close the skills gap completely. This requires an ongoing dialogue between businesses, governments and universities with a shared mindset to improve the current skilling landscape for future readiness.