Stem cells
In STEM take up rates, the UAE does not have a gender diversity issue that many others have. But there is always a need for more to take up graduate course in these lines. Image Credit: Shutterstock

The world is increasingly technology-driven as recovery in the post-Covid world has been dependent on organizations accelerating digital transformation to adapt to change and become more resilient.

Businesses in the UAE are endeavouring to adopt emerging technologies such as cloud, Edge computing and AI, while looking at the latest innovations in cybersecurity, big data, and analytics. According to IDC, overall spending on ICT across META will top $229 billion this year, an increase of 2.7 per cent over 2021, with enterprise IT crossing the $40 billion mark at a 7 per cent increase.

Yet, despite the increase in technology adoption, the supply of technology professionals is still not meeting the demand of the current reality. The demand doesn’t seem to be slowing down either. The Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation (MOHRE) in the UAE posted a list of jobs that will be of focus in the next 10 years, including expertise in AI, machine learning, and automation.

These skills will also be necessary to new plans like the Dubai Metaverse Strategy, which aims to make the city amongst the world’s Top 10 metaverse economies and add $4 billion to the city’s GDP in five years.

Boost for STEM

In this competitive environment, how can businesses in the UAE work towards bridging the existing talent gap? It all starts with nurturing interests in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) from early on. Today, there are various ways for businesses to get involved in this effort.

Enriching school programs can be done through offering teach-the-teacher mentoring, providing access to cutting-edge applications, offering shadow internships and work placements for older students, and supporting students who wish to make the leap into STEMs at the university level.

At the same time, there’s an effort both locally and globally to challenge traditional gender stereotypes in STEM fields. According to a recent UNESCO report on women’s education in STEM, only 35 per cent of STEM students in higher education globally are women.

Encouraging women to pursue STEM subjects from early on, and offering role models to inspire them, are just two ways this gender gap can be addressed. The UAE is already making great headway on this issue. The country ranks highly on the UNDP Gender Equality Index, for example, and statistics from the UAE Gender Balance Council show that 56 per cent of the UAE’s graduates in STEM courses at government universities are women. It’s time for private sector organizations to do their part too.

For students already enrolled in STEM programs at university, employers also have a responsibility of engaging with this next generation of tech talent. It is important for organizations to ease the transition between university education and the working world.

This could be through partnering with the universities to offer internships with practical work trainings, competitions, workshops and exciting opportunities in an accessible and inclusive way.

Change hiring ways

In parallel, diversifying the sources for tech jobs is an important strategy that can sometimes be overlooked. The tech industry needs to re-look at their hiring practices and consider more expansive criteria based on skills, not just work experience.

Offering apprenticeships to people from non-STEM backgrounds—but who may have many of the soft and hard skills to excel in a digital industry—can be a real game-changer. Not only does this help fill the talent gap, but the fusion of different backgrounds and ideas can further drive innovation within an organization.

Another crucial task for tech companies today is creating a work environment that people actually want to work in. In other words, improving their employee value proposition (EVP). The new wave of tech-skilled graduates will expect flexibility and development, for instance. Listening to the needs of employees and creating a motivating culture that supports growth mindsets is key to attracting talent—and retaining them.

A final consideration is not about new talent, but existing tech talent. According to the latest World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report, over half of organizations surveyed perceived skills gaps in their local labour market as one of the top barriers to technology adoption. So, in addition to supporting young people to enter the workforce, upskilling existing talent to keep up with new industry concepts—whether it is the metaverse, crypto, or other fields—is essential.

Looking ahead

In the end, STEM talent development will play a central role in driving the UAE’s digital economy and helping to support the country’s national development goals. Private sector organizations have a crucial role to play in that.

As we head well into Industry 4.0, it’s not an option, but a must that business undertake initiatives to promote the tech talent of the future.