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K for Knowledge: Realising the Dh300b plan

As part of our A to Z of the UAE, we study the initiatives the UAE is using to successfully transition to a competitive knowledge economy by 2021

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GN Focus

Imagine stepping out of university, armed not just with a qualification but with all the tools required to make you an asset at your new workplace. 

Last month, the Dubai Creative Clusters Authority (DCCA) launched a new initiative, where over 4,500 businesses will offer part-time jobs to 26,000 university students in the country. Ahmed Bin Byat, Director-General of DCCA, notes the goal is to nurture vibrant, creative ecosystems and create an “enabling environment” for future leaders.

Also in November technology major Siemens signed a knowledge-transfer agreement with the Ministry of Education in Abu Dhabi to enhance students’ future employability, and help foster a climate of innovation. 

Siemens will roll out a Mechatronics Certification Programme, facilitate the visit of students to its sites in Germany, and provide internship opportunities. 

For the UAE to successfully transition to a competitive knowledge economy by 2021, it will need a flurry of such initiatives. One of the Key Performance Indicators in the UAE’s National Vision 2021 calls for upping the proportion of knowledge workers from 23 per cent in 2015 to 40 per cent by 2021. 

But this is a formidable challenge. In fact, in its 2016 Qudurat Wave III report, HR consultancy Aon Hewitt observes that 57 per cent of employers in the UAE believe their key challenge has been the lack of availability of talent with the necessary qualifications.

So where will the talent for a knowledge economy come from? The National Innovation Strategy is one answer. The plan aims to fill the knowledge gap by training nationals to meet the UAE’s development aspirations across its various sectors. 

It also seeks to turn the country into a primary destination for both educated Arab youth as well as global talent. And in the meantime, to visit change-makers in their home countries the Ministry of Economy sent a delegation of Emirati entrepreneurs to the US in October to promote innovation and enterprise. It will also allow them to interact with their counterparts and learn about various approaches to entrepreneurship. More trips are planned to other countries. 

Programmes such as the Dubai Future Accelerators are speeding things up. Launched in July, this Dh1 billion initiative pairs government departments with start-ups and innovative companies, challenging them to solve the city’s future problems. The issues straddle the areas of safety and security, energy and water, education, health care, infrastructure and technology. 

The prototypes that emerge from this project are expected to not only inspire local entrepreneurs, but also firm up the UAE’s reputation as a global hub for innovation.

Overall, in 2014, the government expects to invest Dh300 billion in over 100 national initiatives as part of the Science, Technology and Innovation Policy. President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan described the 2014 policy as a “turning point” for the UAE, as the country set its course for a post-oil world through investing “in the development of our people in the fields of science and advanced technology”. 

The official targets for a competitive knowledge economy are impressive. For example, from the current ranking of 27 on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index, the UAE aims to reach to the top. And on the Global Entrepreneurship and Development Index, the country plans to move up from the 19th position into the top 10. 

With these initatives in place, it’s hard to see how the UAE cannot achieve its ambitions.