UAE engineering firms must work closer with educators to inspire the next generation of innovators

The engineering sector must work closer with educators if the UAE is going to inspire and enable the next generation of Emiratis to become world-class innovators of the future, according to a new report.

The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), a 151-year-old global organisation with more than 155,000 members in 148 countries, has released findings from its UAE Skills Survey report that lays bare the skills gap currently facing the emirates’ engineering industry, as well as the skills prospects for the next decade.

The IET, which has been running skills surveys for the past 17 years, joined forces with market researchers YouGov, and interviewed engineers and senior decision-makers in UAE companies that employ engineers.

The findings cast a positive light on the expansion of the industry over the past year, with almost half (48%) of engineering and technology firms seeing a growth in their business and one in five reporting a large increase in staff numbers.

However, during 2021 the majority struggled to fill vacancies with more than nine in ten (93%) UAE engineering employers finding it difficult to recruit new staff. The report also highlights the quality of new recruits who joined the sector challenged many businesses with 58% of large companies (those with over 500 employees) saying they are struggling to find applicants with the right technical skills. Engineering employers also say there are simply not enough applicants for the jobs on offer, with a quarter saying there are not enough people interested in new positions.

Other challenges facing engineering employers include pressure on wages (34%), increased remote working (23%) and staff retention and turnover (23%).

Over the next decade the UAE’s industrial strategy, Operation 300bn, aims to develop the industrial sector and enhance its role in stimulating the national economy.

The companies which took part in the IET survey said that upskilling their staff in problem solving and leadership were amongst their most pressing training needs to meet their priorities.

Most employers are confident they can address the skills gap as their businesses diversify into new ones. Almost 90% of engineering employers are confident they will be able to access the training needed to meet their goals in the next five years, with two thirds (66%) looking to implement training to address their skills gap by turning to professional training bodies, such as the IET, to meet their needs.

The IET’s President, Sir Julian Young, said: “Engineering employers can gain value by encouraging the achievement of professional standards within their workforce. There are globally-recognised frameworks that exist to assess the professionalism of engineers and technicians. The attainment of such standards boosts the level of knowledge, skills, and competence, and also supports a workforce’s good ethical behaviour.”

For the UAE to continue to build home-grown engineering talent to meet its future requirements, industry and the Government will need to work with schools to ensure children from a young age experience hands-on practical learning of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths) subjects to encourage creativity, imagination and problem-solving.

David Lakin, Head of Education at the IET, said: “We need to open young people’s eyes and minds to the world of engineering at a much younger age. Not only do we need them to understand what engineering is, we want them to see that if they practically apply the STEM skills they learn in the classroom, they can improve the world for everyone.”

Unlike many other countries, the view of STEM graduates is a positive one across the UAE, with over half (54%) of those who employ entry-level employees considering university education to be very effective in preparing them for the workplace. As the UAE engineering sector diversifies in the coming years, it will be critical for employers and educators to work together to shape the skills pipeline for their industry.

Sir Julian added: “Employers should look at hosting work experience opportunities and mentor schemes, as well as encouraging the engineers and technicians they employ to act as STEM Ambassadors, so the next generation is inspired and prepared for the skills they need.”

Few who took part in the survey identified diversity as a current issue – with only 17% saying they currently see a lack of gender diversity among the workforce and 13% recognising a lack of ethnicity in their workplace. The UAE has a truly diverse population, and it is essential for the engineering sector to continue to embrace diversity, which is critical in helping to increase creativity, productivity, and profitability.

Past President of the IET, Professor Danielle George, said: “The UAE is ahead of many countries when it comes to recruiting female engineers. This is due to the efforts that have been made in the past decade to attract female graduates into the sector. We hope this trend will continue in the next ten years and would urge the UAE government to share its learning across the world.”

You can read more about the survey findings in the IET UAE Engineering and Technology Skills Report online at www.theiet.org/UAESkills.

In the workplace

  1. Gaining the right skills

Investing in employees will increase profitability. Employers should make sure their engineers and technicians develop a broad mix of skills that includes technical and life skills. They should look at creating a framework that supports continuing professional development (CPD) – because employees should never stop learning. Apprenticeships can provide a structured and highly effective way to improve the skills and experience of the workforce.

  • Encouraging diversity in the workplace

The UAE has a truly diverse population. Harnessing this diversity can provide a long-term solution to skills shortages while also supporting productivity and profitability. It’s great to see the crucial role that female Emiratis are playing within the engineering sector. Engineering employers should continue to champion multiple areas of diversity in their workforce because this provides a variety of perspectives and skill sets.

  • Professional standards

Employers should encourage the continual achievement of professional standards within their workforce. They should use globally recognised frameworks to assess the professionalism of their engineers and technicians. This can help increase skills and competence levels while also reinforcing the importance of ethical behaviour.

Education system

  • Supporting employable graduates

Industry requirements can change rapidly, so involving industry in shaping higher education can be very beneficial. We recommend aligning courses to future industry needs and running research projects in collaboration with industry, to give students valuable real-world exposure. Employers should engage with educators to help shape the skills pipeline for their industry. Encouraging employees to act as mentors and STEM ambassadors can be a great way to inspire the next generation.

  • Quality assessment

Benchmarking the quality of a higher education programme can be a useful way to assess its worth. An internationally recognised quality assessment can help a programme stay at the forefront of international educational developments; improve the student learning experience; and enhance graduate attributes to better meet the needs of the industry. Higher education institutions should consider attaining global quality benchmarks.

  • Experiential learning

Early years education is an important building block for a future workforce. Hands-on, experiential learning is essential when teaching science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). It encourages creativity, imagination, and problem-solving skills, all of which help young people apply knowledge to the world around them. Although much has already been achieved in this area, the UAE education system should continue to evolve experiential learning of STEM subjects. This will ensure these subjects remain relevant to the ever-changing engineering landscape.

The IET and YouGov interviewed 325 engineers and senior decision-makers in engineering and technology businesses across the UAE between 13 December 2021 and 5 January 2022. The sample was drawn from YouGov’s panel in the UAE and only those working in the engineering and technology sector were allowed to take part. The survey findings build on earlier research carried out in 2021. The survey results have not been weighted.

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