Like every government in the world, the UAE is adapting to an economic future in which the phrase “business as usual” will become increasingly obsolete. The Fourth Industrial Revolution has begun to usher in new methods of connection, production, consumption and value creation, with great speed and in ways that challenge the limits of what is possible.
This, though, is a landscape replete with opportunity. Artificial intelligence, virtual and augmented reality, blockchain, nanotechnology, space exploration, 3D printing and quantum computing all have the potential to not just change the world but provide access to entirely new ones – real and virtual. In the coming decades, a nation’s success will depend on how quickly and how broadly these new technologies can be developed, deployed and, perhaps most importantly, distributed.
It is a challenge the UAE is certainly priming itself for. In the “Projects of the 50”, the package of initiatives that will guide the nation’s economic and social path over the next half century, our government put forward an agenda designed to position the UAE as a destination where the brightest minds and the boldest ideas can flourish, and where the technologies of the future can be used as a means of universal economic advancement.
Getting there requires vision, leadership and a spirit of collaboration, whether between countries or between governments, institutions and the private sector. Above all, though, it requires talent.
Writing in the Harvard Business Review in March 2020, Becky Frankiewicz and Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic stated that technological transformation isn’t so much about tools and hardware as it is people. “You can pretty much buy any technology,” they wrote, “but your ability to adapt to an even more digital future depends on developing the next generation of skills, closing the gap between talent supply and demand, and future-proofing your own and others’ potential.”
It is a view that mirrors our own. Attracting, developing and retaining talent has always been a national priority for the UAE – the welcome we have extended to dedicated, ambitious and innovative individuals of more than 200 nationalities is central to the nation’s success and unique character. According to Insead’s Global Talent Competitiveness Index for the year 2020, the UAE ranks third globally and first regionally in its ability to attract talent, and more than a quarter of the world’s largest 500 companies have an international or regional headquarters in the country.
There has also been success in attracting the skills to leverage the technologies of the future. According to LinkedIn, the UAE saw a net inflow of 23,000 skilled people between January 2020 and April 2021, a 13 per cent increase as a measure of the total size of UAE LinkedIn members – and all this despite the ongoing obstacles presented by the global pandemic.
Interestingly, of this 23,000, the most noticeable influx came from those with digital disruptive skills, in fields such as AI, robotics and cybersecurity. Between 2015 and 2020, the UAE saw a 100 per cent increase in these skills in the workforce, which underlines the nation’s long-standing commitment to adopt and harness the technologies of the future.
Of course, as we look to a new year – and for the UAE, a new half century – we know there is much more to be done. The competition between nations in attracting and developing global talent has intensified as knowledge-based economies flourish; we have seen post-Brexit UK reassert its status as a magnet for international professionals and students with a Global Talent Visa, while Australia has created a Global Business and Talent Attraction Taskforce to ensure they remain competitive. Talent will soon trump financial capital as a driver of national economic success.
So, what is at stake? It is our conviction that individuals with the ability to acquire, create and apply knowledge will be crucial to our goal of doubling the economy from Dh1.4 trillion to Dh3 trillion by 2031. To that end, the UAE government has launched a two-pronged strategy: firstly, to incentivise global talent to come and live in the UAE and engage fully with its economic, social and cultural life; and secondly, to develop world-class skills from the high-calibre talent pool already here.
To achieve the former, the government of the UAE has recently launched a series of landmark initiatives, beginning with the April launch of the Strategy for Talent Attraction and Retention, a 10-year, holistic plan to facilitate immigration pathways, enhance social insurance features, and increase workforce flexibility and mobility. This was followed by the aforementioned recent “Projects of the 50”, which delivered a package of talent-focused provisions such as enhanced residency and visa pathways for investors, skilled professionals and high-achieving students, including the planned introduction of a specialist “green visa” category.
Most recently, in November, the employment law was upgraded to accommodate and encourage different working models, including part-time, freelance and temporary work, as well as offering enhanced employee rights and leave policies. It is all part of the nation’s efforts to create a flexible and competitive work environment in line with global standards.
In terms of talent development, the UAE government has rolled out a number of initiatives, including the “Compete” programme, which has pledged Dh1.25 billion to train nationals in skills central to the national economy. The Ministry of Industry and Advanced Technology are offering training around the adoption of 4IR technologies, while the One Million Arab Coders campaign, first launched in 2017, was recently boosted by the offer of a $1 million cash prize for the most innovative coding project.
These efforts will have clear benefits. They will help the UAE to develop a more agile, future-proof economy, elevate industrial output, increase the volume of our advanced technology exports and add Dh25 bn to national GDP by 2031.
High-calibre talent will also help our industries attract foreign direct investment, facilitate knowledge-transfer in advanced technologies and forge stronger multilateral relationships with key global partners – all of which will contribute to greater economic stability and security for the country’s residents.
As we look to 2022 and the continued recovery from the pandemic, skilled human capital will be regarded as the foundation of economic growth and international competitiveness. The UAE will continue to create an environment that welcomes, nurtures and champions it.