UAE economy will benefit from a focus on industry in education

Amid uncertainty in the global economy and the GCC region, the UAE and Abu Dhabi stand out as strong performers despite the decline in oil prices. This is because of the bold vision set forth by our government to diversify our economy into non-oil sectors, including industry and manufacturing.

It is this vision that has enabled our nation to develop opportunities in these sectors, in areas such as metals, building materials, oil and gas services, and food and beverage manufacturing, all of which contribute to further economic diversification.

Today, the UAE ranks among the fastest growing economies in the region – and one of the most stable in the world – because of the significant growth in these areas and other non-oil sectors.

Accordingly, the UAE’s industrial sector needs to constantly innovate to remain ahead of the pack and take the nation further down its growth trajectory, and transform into an innovation-led economy. For that to happen and remain sustainable, our focus needs to shift to producing a skilled and educated workforce. This idea of competence building for sustainable innovation and economic growth will therefore have to start in our schools and our homes. For us to remain competitive in what is an increasingly knowledge-based and global economic paradigm, education institutions and industry need to increase their collaboration and go beyond the traditional route of funding small, discreet research or corporate social responsibility projects on an ad hoc basis and towards long-term, strategic partnerships.

On the one hand we need to recognise that by doing so, education institutions will help to drive economic growth by enticing more students to disciplines and career paths within the industrial and manufacturing sectors, which have traditionally been reserved for expatriate talent. On the other, the industry needs to recognise that for it to thrive in the long run, it needs to make itself more attractive to local students.

Finally, there is a stringent need that requires all of us collectively to become better at encouraging children to build and create using their own hands and, in turn, consider industrial career paths. To make this work, each side must overcome the cultural and communications divide that tends to impair societal perception of industry-related careers and undercuts their enormous potential. Bridging the industry-education gap through innovation makes for an excellent solution for the UAE – a high-growth economy with massive potential through its ever-thriving industrial sector.

First, we must as a society recognise the enormous contributions that professionals in the industrial and manufacturing sectors make to the UAE economy.

Organisations must promote training and development opportunities for professionals wishing to succeed in these sectors.

Universities need to play a key role by highlighting the potential of the multiplier effect on an economy with a strong industrial sector and make the sector more appealing to students in general.

These industries need to get better at working together with schools to make themselves more appealing. Companies need to focus on exciting and enticing projects that depend on advanced technologies, which provide high-value addition to the economy, to increase their respective competitiveness but also to appeal to prospective joiners.

We should also ensure that society plays its role by putting the right ecosystem in place: we need to address the misconstrued perception of industrial careers and help aspiring students and others recognise the importance of manufacturing in a balanced economy. For these students to want to enter the sector, they need a supportive environment that encourages and rewards their aspirations.

And finally, policymakers need to recognise the significance of the sector for the long-term prosperity of the nation and facilitate university-industry partnerships and funding. Government policy should, therefore, reward, or at least not discourage, universities, students and companies that work towards that goal, be it through incentive programmes, scholarships or other initiatives.

A diverse, highly skilled national workforce will create benefits for the wider economy, which is essential for the continued growth and diversification of our emirate and our country.

Abu Dhabi and the UAE have made great strides in the development of these sectors, as we have already started on this path in our economy’s diversification. However, more work can be done to enhance these sectors and to further compete on the global stage.

The belief that “we can’t always be followers” should constantly be guiding our aspirations. We need to recognise that industry, manufacturing and knowledge-based technologies form the backbone of our future and of our economy, and that stressing their importance to our aspiring talent and leaders is, therefore, an innovation in itself and essential to our continuous prosperity as a nation.

Jamal Salem Al Dhaheri is the acting chief executive at Senaat.

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