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Available candidates with enough new-technology skills is at a premium, which is why businesses are taking a hire-and-hone approach with what is available. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Governments, enterprises, and individuals are increasingly conscious that we need digital skills, and we need them now. In April, the UAE launched a strategy designed to grow its digital economy over the next decade to 20 per cent of non-oil GDP, while last year, it initiated the landmark National Program for Coders that aims to train 100,000 software professionals within five years. The rationale is clear: digital economies are built by those with digital skills.

Yet digital skills remain undersupplied. In 2018, PwC found 70 per cent of Middle Eastern business leaders to be concerned about the availability of key skills. By end 2021, that proportion had grown to 81 per cent. This shortfall is also evidenced in the findings of the latest edition of our ‘Global Skills Report’, which found the UAE’s talent pools for technology and data science skills ranked just 72 and 71, respectively. For businesses looking to attract qualified tech professionals, these challenges are further exacerbated by intensifying global competition for talent.

When trying to build a digital talent pool, there is always a temptation to hire professionals who already possess the requisite skills and experience. However, the enduring skills gaps in these domains mean there are currently more roles available than there are skilled professionals to fill them. In addition, high demand for those with such skills can make hiring prohibitively expensive for small businesses, encouraging them to prioritise attributes over experience. This means they must accept the extended time to value for such high-potential hires, and shoulder the investment required to reap that value.

For this hire-and-hone approach to be successful, organisations need to possess a high-level understanding of the assortment of skills required for particular job functions. Fortunately, both the discovery of these skills, and the path to acquiring them, have been radically simplified by new professional learning pathways — including online professional certificates and role-based learning solutions.

Online professional certificates

We saw UAE enrolments for online professional certificates soar by 188 per cent year-on-year during 2021-22. These courses allow people — including those working full time — to flexibly upskill and reskill.

At their own pace, workers can attain those crucial high-demand skills necessary for well-paid entry-level jobs. Industry leaders — Google, Meta, IBM, and Salesforce — are offering courses in everything from social media marketer to cybersecurity analyst. These are often accompanied by additional career support, including introductions to potential employers and help with developing human skills including emotional intelligence, inter-personal skills, change management, and organizational development.

Online professional learning offers instruction from anywhere by some of the world’s leading domain experts. The certificates are also great news for smaller businesses hiring for potential rather than experience because trainees become job-ready quickly. For example, companies looking to develop an IT support team can benefit from the Google IT Support Professional Certificate, which prepares workers for such roles in three to six months.

For those seeking to change careers, these certifications can prepare them for entry-level digital jobs without any previous experience or academic qualifications. Such flexible - and rapid training - options will be extremely important for the UAE in its digitisation initiatives.

Role-based learning

There are, however, two main challenges associated with standalone professional certificates. One: until a candidate fully understands a role’s requirements, they may not know what skills they need, especially if their target job requires multiple digital skills not covered by a single certificate. And two: newly certified learners may not be able to visualise the right career path for them.

This is where curated, role-based learning paths can add tremendous value, especially when it comes to fulfilling initiatives such as the UAE’s National Program for Coders. The USPs of online learning are all there — hands-on learning, internal mobility, and a drastic reduction in entry barriers. All of these factors guarantee a larger talent pool.

Role-based learning goes further. Employees can understand career implications before they embark on a training path, promising greater skills acquisition for trainees, employees, and employers — and the UAE’s economy.

It is easy to see how both online professional certificates and role-based learning can support non-oil economic growth in the UAE. Human ingenuity will be the principal driver of any digital economy, and digital skills are the obvious prerequisite.

Organisations that embark on hire-then-hone paths via role-based skilling initiatives find themselves able to draw from a far greater pool of talent, and foster a workforce that steadily grows more proficient and capable. In doing so, they’ll be better-equipped to rise to the challenges and opportunities presented by the ongoing digital revolution.