More than ever before, it is evident some of the GCC countries are in a race with time to secure a dominant role in the global labor market – and it is the correct approach to take. Technology advances have annulled many of the differences between countries in creating progress, irrespective of whether they are emerging or developing ones.
Those with the firmness of intent and capable management will be able to make the most of these opportunities. The closest example of this emerging trend of nations competing for global talent is the UAE’s ‘Principles of the 50’ and the projects that have and will emerge from it. They represent clear and qualitative goals that focus on restructuring the economy as a whole to meet the requirements of this century.
Restructuring the economy
Over the past 50 years, the UAE achieved remarkable progress in terms of economic diversification and a sophisticated infrastructure that was considered a development model for emerging economies. However, the speed at which technological changes are happening forced all countries to rethink their development patterns, which are no longer deemed appropriate for knowledge-based economies. Plus, continued dependence on exports of oil or agricultural produce is in constant decline, as demand itself has changed.
Materials such as lithium and copper have gained increasing importance due to the need from new technology industries, especially in the manufacture of electric car batteries and for renewable energy. If we take a quick look at the Projects of the 50 announced so far, we will find that these aim to bring about a shift in the UAE economy based on knowledge and innovation are the most important pillars.
This was evident even earlier, including the development of 500 national companies equipped with the technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution during the next five years as well as the allocation of Dh5 billion to adopt advanced technology in the private sector and enable their digital transformation. This is in addition to the investments allocated to the government sector and semi-governmental institutions to support this transformation.
Recognizing the role of foreign investments, the government also took decisions to create suitable conditions for investment funds, and helping the public and private sectors to attract Dh550 billion of such investments over the next nine years. This would entail seismic changes to the UAE’s economic structure and push it towards creating a structure for sustainable development.
To encourage the expected transformation, it was decided to make 42 per cent of the federal authorities and major national companies purchases from within the local economy. This was accompanied by plans to improve exports while focusing on 10 large global markets with an annual increase of 10 per cent in national exports to those markets.
Restructuring the workforce
Such a structural transformation cannot be achieved without making a similar restructuring of the workforce to respond to the requirements of a digital economy. It was decided to add 3,000 programmers per month to the local workforce by providing facilities and incentives to attract new talents and create new programming companies.
This coincides with changes to the curricula at institutions of higher education, which will increasingly rely on the latest advances to develop talent. And to deepen the structural changes to the labor market, the government launched the ‘Nafis’ programme and allocated Dh24 billion to create 75,000 jobs for Emiratis in the private sector over the next five years.
This is in addition to making radical changes to the residency regulations under which permanent residency will be granted to attract international talent. The government is also providing long-term self-residency without a sponsor for top achievers and graduates from universities. This means the entire UAE economy and its prospects hinge on its management of technologies of the future.
The labor market will be dominated by specialist tech-focussed jobs, which will yield higher productivity and increased efficiency in addition to the development of many sectors that are wholly based on new foundations. This will result in boosting production and reducing costs, and enhancing the competitiveness of UAE created products, and ensuring the Principles of the 50 are interconnected.
This transformation is nothing but a way out of the tradition-bound economic structure, It will help secure a prominent position for the UAE in the ever changing digital economy, without which it is not possible to think about real development and one that preserves the gains and high standard of living enjoyed by the country.
Let’s assume the existence of similar programmes in some GCC countries - the integration of these could give the countries special positions in the new global economy, and the relatively large and unified Gulf market could easily absorb the output from the new industries. The 50-year approach represents a major transformation thanks to its boldness to bring about radical change.
The UAE without this challenge will not realize true economic progress. The GCC states have advantages that must be harnessed for more advancement, as they have the investments, advanced infrastructure, and cheap sources of energy - whether traditional or renewable - as well as the skills and advanced infrastructure of ports and airports with large capacity.
Some people may suspect the outcomes given the scale of this challenge. But the UAE’s ability to overcome previous challenges that it faced it over the past five decades is the best answer they can get. That approach calls for similar optimism about the success of the new approach for the next 50 years.
--The writer is a specialist in energy and Gulf economic affairs.