Covid-19 has had a profound impact on the way we live, learn and work – forcing companies to reimagine their business models to seize opportunities in the new normal. The pandemic has also dramatically accelerated digital transformation of companies.
According to a Deloitte study, The upskilling imperative: Building a future-ready workforce for the AI age, organisations have increasingly started seeing data-driven decision-making as crucial to their survival today and their success tomorrow, driving forward with investments in AI, analytics, automation, and digitisation to secure their future in a changing world.
We are now in the fourth industrial revolution, where smart machines are employed in smart factories, with information-driven operations leading to high efficiency and productivity. While the STEM subjects form the core and foundation of this knowledge-based economy, digital literacy is now integral to STEM.
While the accelerated technology adoption will create opportunities for innovation and growth for companies and build more resilient businesses, this will require employees and leaders to gain new skills and competencies to excel in their current roles as well as to transition into new fields or occupations.
So how could higher education systems adapt and respond to these changes and play a stronger role in preparing young learners for the challenges of the future job market?
Universities in the UAE have taken a proactive approach in aligning more closely with the demands of the labour market and society, offering degrees that help students to develop knowledge, skills and attitude to succeed in this new age of work.
“We are now in the fourth industrial revolution, where smart machines are employed in smart factories, with information-driven operations leading to high efficiency and productivity,” says Dr Srinivasan Madapusi, Senior Professor and Director, BITS Pilani Dubai Campus.
“While the STEM subjects form the core and foundation of this knowledge-based economy, digital literacy is now integral to STEM,” he says.
As information technology (IT) becomes a driving force and enabler, the core disciplines of engineering and technology that are built on STEM subjects will continue to be essential for economic growth.
“However, digitalisation, automation, and the convergence of IT and operational technology (OT) will be embedded in each of these core areas. The STEM subjects will now be taught with an interleaving of IT tools that will enable learners to be more proficient and they will be better able to apply STEM concepts in their chosen paths,” explains Dr Madapusi.
Every student at BITS Pilani Dubai, irrespective of their major, can choose to specialise in minors such as data science, robotics and automation, aeronautics, materials science and engineering, finance, entrepreneurship, and philosophy, economics and politics.
Strong STEM background and numerical skills are an added value to a résumé but are not everything. Currently, data-driven and technology-related studies are in high demand, but one needs to remember that skills that cannot be digitised or automated will soon become extremely valuable.
Dr Madapusi advises students to acquire skillsets that extend the boundaries of the core disciplines to obtain competitive advantage in their chosen field. For example, proficiency in data analytics will lend more value to a degree in finance.
Dr Anna Tarabasz, Associate Professor, Dean Teaching and Learning and Head of Business and Humanities at Curtin University Dubai, also suggests that future students have to understand that employers are looking beyond subject knowledge and skills.
“The main need is the right attitude,” she says. “Education shall be considered as a holistic experience, grooming the right approach and mindset. Strong STEM background and numerical skills are an added value to a résumé but are not everything. Currently, data-driven and technology-related studies are in high demand, but one needs to remember that skills that cannot be digitised or automated will soon become extremely valuable,” Dr Tarabasz adds.
Curtin Dubai is preparing students for the future workplace and for the advances in a host of technologies through its industry-led programmes, such as BBA in Digital Marketing, B-Com in Communication with a specialisation in Web Media, and an undergraduate programme in Cyber Security.
“Market-ready and hands-on experienced graduates will know the importance of problem-solving, design thinking, and be able to craft appealing communication to contemporary customers. Moreover, Cyber Security students will learn about data encryption, cyber forensics, and network intrusion detection to protect organisations against upcoming cyber threats,” explains Dr Tarabasz.
Mechatronics, a multidisciplinary field that integrates several types of engineering – mechanical, electronics and computer science – is a popular option for students in the UAE, says Dr Fazal Malik, Pro Vice Chancellor, Amity University Dubai.
“The UAE has put a renewed focus on the knowledge economy, which needs resilient manpower with an exceptional combination of technical and soft skills. Whether it is design, testing, or production, this 4-year Bachelor of Technology in Mechatronics programme includes the study of various aspects of mechanical and electrical engineering. Similarly, programmes like Animation, which combines digital, graphic and storytelling skills, are in demand. The growing creative industry in Dubai is looking for locally trained and educated manpower to take up jobs in this sector. We also offer Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) and Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) certifications with a number of our management programmes. This has proven to be vital for students looking to graduate with additional accolades to their names,” Dr Malik says.
Similarly, Westford University College (WUC) is also doing its bit to help learners navigate the challenges and opportunities of the job market. “Some of the courses we introduced are above the conventional options and the delivery of the programmes are aimed at grooming our students to be future ready with added certifications benchmarked with the best standards of employability,” says Zawahir Siddique, Head of Blended Learning.
“The undergraduate programmes in Sports Management and Information Technology, for instance, are embedded with industry specific vocational skills. Over a dozen specialisation streams offered by Westford University College are not just versatile but are cutting-edge that include domains like Artificial Intelligence, Data Analytics and Public Health Management,” Siddique adds.
CMA certification prepares students to take on the challenges of the world of business while helping them to stand out from their peers. In addition, it is important to develop a lifelong learning mindset. Young professionals should be ready to continuously upskill and reskill themselves to ensure that they are always in demand, no matter what changes or disruptions unfold around them
Options for finance graduates
When it comes to the finance and accounting profession, university students can enhance their employability by gaining CMA certification while they are still pursuing their studies, says Rishi Malhotra, Academic and Community Relations Manager, Middle East and Africa, Institute of Management Accountants (IMA).
“This prepares students to take on the challenges of the world of business while helping them to stand out from their peers. In addition, it is important to develop a lifelong learning mindset. Young professionals should be ready to continuously upskill and reskill themselves to ensure that they are always in demand, no matter what changes or disruptions unfold around them.”