Rob Watson is helping roll out a pilot programme next year in Hamdan bin Rashid School, in Dubai, to promote science and engineering careers among UAE nationals. The regional director for the Middle East office of Rolls-Royce, the aircraft engine maker, speaks about what is driving this initiative.
For the last couple of years Rolls-Royce has focused on education and skills building. Why did you introduce this initiative, called tech lab?
We have a number of significant partners in the region, a lot of whom have ordered a significant amount of Rolls-Royce equipment, which will be delivered over the next six to eight years. That equipment will operate for another 10 to 15 years. As that 20 years [of innovation] progresses, the depth and importance of that industrial footprint will increase, so we wanted to have an education strategy that supported that growth and aligned ourselves with the strategy of the UAE.
So this is basically about finding talent?
It is not about persuading people to work for Rolls-Royce, although that would be great. It's about making sure there's a larger number of children coming through the UAE education system who want to do engineering as a career and understand the opportunities in the private sector. The number of engineers that are going to be required in 10 years' time is staggering. In order to be confident about making sure you can manage that, you need to be in schools now talking about this.
And promoting the private sector is a tough ask, is it not?
I think it is as there isn't a very high profile for private-sector careers. [But] if you can demonstrate the huge impact that the private sector has in wealth creation and the huge opportunities and diversity of opportunities that it offers you will inevitably find a larger number of people following that path.
What will students learn in your tech lab?
The lab basically allows students working on laptops to run a series of exercises and experiments that apply the laws of physics to everyday objects. That runs over 12 lessons through a semester and the final lesson is a wrap-up. We use a bit of Rolls-Royce in which we apply it all to a jet engine. Hopefully, next time they get on the plane they will think more than "oh what's on the telly". They will look at the engine and understand [more about it].
The kind of thing you are doing here by promoting science is a battle that's going on in other countries. Why do you think children are not drawn to this type of career?
I think in the UAE children are drawn towards this and you do see this through students in universities. But it is relatively new given the acceleration of the programme of industrial diversification. Yet we can't sit here and assume that the demand will be matched by the supply of engineers. We need to continue to promote it.