One of the findings from the 2018 Arab Youth Survey showed that over 60 per cent of people aged between 18 to 24 years believe that the digital revolution has had a positive impact on the Middle East, viewing it as the most important development that has shaped the region over the past decade.
Arab entrepreneurs are turning to the tech sector as a gateway to the future, and with young people increasingly studying, shopping and banking online, a lot more needs to be done to develop the digital ecosystem so young people can convert this into a career or business opportunity.
Young people are already deeply entwined with the digital economy, but it is crucial that we prepare them to take advantage of this new landscape in shaping their own destinies.
The Global Education & Skills Forum in Dubai highlighted that one way to prepare children for the digital future is to make sure they have a strong foundation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and learn adaptive skills.
The UAE Government has been spearheading STEM initiatives over the past few years. In fact, the UAE Vision 2021 clearly states that ‘Innovation, research, science and technology will form the pillars of a knowledge-based, highly productive and competitive economy, driven by entrepreneurs in a business-friendly environment where public and private sectors form effective partnerships’.
The Ministry of Education is already taking huge steps to achieve this and is increasing support for STEM and innovation education across the UAE from early school to postgraduate tertiary levels. Universities are preparing graduates with the correct skill sets, critical thinking abilities and specialised proficiency in technical areas to man the workforce of the future.
The UAE – and the wider MENA region – has a young population. Digital and tech-savvy, they are at the cusp of a new era where digital technologies are transforming the way we live, work and play.
So how can we unlock the power of digital technologies to truly empower youth, and prepare them for future jobs? How can we reskill young people for an era of advanced manufacturing and AI-driven industries?
Developing an advanced digital infrastructure
Unlike the babyboomers of the 60s and 70s, who were able to maneuver through tech challenges by sheer grit and creativity, millennials and GenX prefer to start their careers using platforms created specifically for their age group by tech companies.
Governments across the region need to understand that developing a far-sighted bespoke digital infrastructure goes a long way in leaping into the future.
It is remarkable that the UAE – mostly a desert five decades ago – is now a powerhouse of technology. This would not have been possible without the zeal of the UAE leadership that has relied on the youth and its spirit. Adoption and adaptation of new technologies, like the ongoing implementation of 5G by Etisalat, is taking a giant leap forward by investing in futuristic technologies and smart services that enable programmers, ICT developers and tech companies to evolve rapidly.
Developing digital and soft skills
The digital economy is expected to grow rapidly over the next few years. By 2020, 70 per cent of the world’s population are expected to have access to smart phones. The impact of this goes far beyond consumer use. Technological innovations are being developed to serve society; from digital libraries for those who can’t easily access books, to LinkedIn Learning – online video courses taught by industry experts in software, creative, and business skills.
Another major aspect is the growth of AI, robotics and the Internet of Things. The digital chasm will only widen until we bring in a young, skilled workforce to fill the roles that use this technology. The next generation will be the driving force of our economies in the decades to come, so it is vital that policy makers, educational institutions and businesses work together to upskill them.
Government, academia and industry must collectively spark students’ intrigue in STEM, allowing them to develop the intellectual flexibility to spur a new chapter of innovation in the 21st century.
We are all in it together
Today, it is not only the job of technology-driven companies to empower the youth, but everyone’s jobs, including parents, teachers, employers and colleagues.
Parents increasingly recognise this need. More than nine out of 10 parents surveyed by ICT giant TCS say they want computer science taught at their child’s school.
Employers too need to work closely with young people, IT administrators, policy makers and government bodies to recognise that there is no one size that fits all. Each organisation will need to create its own digital blueprint to empower young people to greater leadership-level decision making.
Iman Al Qasim is ENOC Group’s human resources director