Abu Dhabi: The UAE’s goal of creating a knowledge-based economy that is not solely dependent on oil will largely rely on an educated work force that is capable of handling the latest developments and challenges of the 21st century, said policymakers and experts in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday.
Now in its third edition, the Leaders Forum, organised by the Abu Dhabi Centre for Technical and Vocational Education and Training, focused on discussing the best ways of creating a sustainable post-oil economy in the UAE.
“The educational aspect in creating a knowledge-based economy should be complete and comprehensive in order to make it one of the best in the world. We have carried out many studies and chose the best methodology that goes hand in hand with the needs of the UAE in this very important phase of the country,” said Hussain Ebrahim Al Hammadi, Minister of Education.
“We want to move from an economy based on oil to a new economy based on the human knowledge of both nationals and expatriates alike who will use knowledge as a tool to compete and move the country forward,” he added.
Al Hammadi explained the need for creating specialised education courses that matched the requirements of the job market.
“We know there is a continuous change in our world in terms of employment, and the global trend is that a person will not have one sole job or skill. That is why we have to equip graduates with general and specialised skills so that they can be flexible with their jobs and the requirements of the fourth industrial revolution,” he said.
Werner Faymann, United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Youth Employment, echoed the sentiments and said education is the key to driving knowledge-based economies.
“Education and improving skills are the answers to solving some of the world’s problems. The times are changing, our task is to prepare the young people for this change and to prepare them for jobs that currently do not exist,” he said.
“Young people need to be taught on how to be innovative with solutions and flexible in dealing with uncertainties. Instead of telling them to look for jobs, we should tell them to spot opportunities,” he added.
Faymann also said it is crucial for partnerships to be formed between education institutions, private sector industries, and government bodies.
“Universities and schools have to build up a long-term close relationship with the private sector and the government to think about which skills are necessary [for young people], if you don’t have this partnership, [the plans] will not be successful,” he said.
Seven sectors for economic diversification
Sami Al Qamzi, director-general, Department of Economic Development, Dubai, said seven key sectors have been identified as areas to invest in for creating a diversified knowledge-based economy. They are innovative clean energy, transportation, education, health, water, technology, and space,” he said.
Al Qamzi explained that achieving these goals would be by investing in human capital and creating an environment that actively encourages innovation.
“We are putting a focus on more innovation and investing in human capital — in addition to that, we want to be able to empower the economy to cope with all changes that are happening worldwide,” he said.
Dr Mohammad Al Ahbabi, director-general of the UAE Space Agency, speaking on the role of the country’s space sector, said it would provide a good opportunity for economic diversification and specialisation.
“The space sector is expensive and risky — however it provides a very strategic advantage for the country as it helps create a knowledge-based economy. Through the space sector, a lot of services and technologies are created that benefit mankind such as communications and navigation,” he said. “Today in the UAE, we have four major organisations involved in the space sector — the UAE Space Agency, the Mohammad Bin Rashid Space Centre, Yahsat, and Thuraya. We have 500 employees, of whom 50 per cent are local citizens.
“The Mars Hope probe will be a platform for the continued development of the national space sector. This project has many objectives, one of which is the scientific purpose of going to Mars by 2021… and to attract the young people [to the space industry] and to unify all efforts in the culture of innovation. [Mars Hope] will contribute towards diversifying the country’s economy and will put the UAE on the international space map,” he added.