Skills shortage needs tackling in the UAE

24 May 2011

Atic’s plans to build a microchip plant worth $8bn in the emirate have highlighted how essential it is to invest in new sectors

The numerous investments under way as part of Abu Dhabi’s 2030 economic plan to diversify its economy away from oil have one common challenge – a skills shortage.

The Advanced Technology Investment Company (Atic) is building an $8bn silicon chip fabrication facility in the emirate. The costs in maintaining the facility will be huge, but the biggest worry at the moment is the lack of local Emiratis with the skills and educational background needed to fill the 5,000 jobs that are expected to be created.

Traditionally, Gulf nationals are more inclined to take up careers in government departments

Atic is not alone. Another initiative, Twofour54, a media zone that plans to turn Abu Dhabi into the cultural hub of the region, is also struggling to attract locals. The company is planning to move to a new campus that can house 12,000 media specialists. The majority of these will undoubtedly be foreign.

Traditionally, Gulf nationals are more inclined to take up careers in government departments. There is little desire to break the mould, despite the incentives on offer.

The government has identified that countries that invest in technological innovation have a higher gross domestic product. The chip plant has the potential to transform Abu Dhabi’s global position as a driver of new technology, but without local graduates to fill the posts, this vision may not be achieved. Atic will be forced to hire non-local recruits, which defeats the purpose of the economic plan.

The Atic scheme is not just a construction project. It is a long-term investment that will continue to incur costs and will require human capital to keep it functioning. Specific degrees have been established to fill this need, but whether they prove popular remains to be seen.

The UAE requires investment in changing perceptions and bringing about a cultural shift in order to attract local Emiratis to pursue careers other than government desk jobs.

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