Our youth are our greatest asset as we look forward to a sustainable future

The UAE's Minister of State for Higher Education on the advanced skills needed to tackle the coming challenges of the environment, knowledge and the economy

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES, 8 AUGUST 2017. Emirati Abdul Aziz (Center) plays with a giant jenga set at the International Youth Day Celebration at the Intercontinental Hotel in Festival City. (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: Caline Malik. Section: National.
Powered by automated translation

The rapid changes currently taking place across the world have significant implications for our political, economic, financial and social systems. The disruptions posed by Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies, such as artificial intelligence, robotics and big data, have led us to the cusp of a new technology paradigm.

Humanity now finds itself standing at a crossroads where we need to know how to adapt to these new variables. Collectively, we must work out how we can benefit from these changing elements and discover how we can positively influence key issues, in particular sustainability and development.

To be fully aware of the magnitude of what is in store for us and to be ready for a brave new world, we need to look at the future through a new lens, keeping in mind the global challenges of resource husbandry, energy sustainability and wealth distribution equality. These issues are never more relevant than they are for the UAE and they compel us to focus on where our investment should be directed. We need to ask: who will propel us to the next stage of the future?

According to the latest statistics, the Arab world consists of 362 million people. Youth form the largest age segment, with people under the age of 30 making up 65 per cent of the total population. We have a golden opportunity if we can equip this burgeoning group with the necessary skills to create sustainable development. We need to harness their energy, as youthful energy can be a double-edged sword. If invested in properly, it can lead to productivity and empowerment. If neglected, it can result in resentment and negativity, with young people feeling disenfranchised by not being enabled to meet the demands of the future, nor being given the skills to serve their countries and societies.

So it is incumbent on us to ask: are our young people capable of assuming the great responsibility we wish to place on them? Can Emirati youth successfully lead the country towards sustainable development? To answer these questions, we need to look to our past.

From the beginning of our great nation, the Founding Father Sheikh Zayed set a template for ensuring that we invest in human capital, especially young people. To meet this objective he established short-term and long-term strategies to educate youth, build their abilities and create new competencies within them. This policy stemmed from his deep belief that UAE youth are capable of leading the future of this young country, that there was no such word as "impossible" and that a strong will combined with knowledge and skill could move mountains.

The UAE has reaped the fruits of this strategic approach, with the achievements of young Emiratis evident across numerous fields. Their successes have been recorded in sectors that include education, energy, the environment and space, with the most recent notable accomplishment being the launch of the satellite KhalifaSat, which was conceived, planned and built entirely with Emirati expertise.

It is clear that Emirati youth are more than capable of overcoming every obstacle in their path but we should not shirk our responsibilities to them. The government has a duty to provide all the support and care possible for these ambitious young people by providing them with the knowledge, competencies and skills that will help them navigate the challenges of the future. Many of these challenges relate to sustainability – of the environment, economy and knowledge, the latter of which was encouraged by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, when he called for lifelong learning.

Advanced skills are the key to empowering Emirati youth as they focus on that journey of lifelong learning. They enable young people to continue their voyage of knowledge acquisition and to overcome challenges and capitalise on investment opportunities, especially when it comes to sustainability and development of vital sectors that raise the competitiveness of our beloved Emirates.

Advanced skills are our youth's tool to ensure that they are able to adapt to the changes that are taking place at an accelerated pace around us, whether these are technical skills or personal, so-called soft skills. If we look at advanced skills from a future perspective, we find that they need to develop constantly. The future is volatile and full of new challenges that impose on young people the need for flexibility if they are to meet its demands and serve the interests of their country and its future generations.

The UAE is moving steadily towards leading the future, with our wise leadership’s ambitions reaching beyond the sky. We have achieved in a few short years what other countries take decades or longer to accomplish. Our dream is growing and young Emiratis are responsible for realising this and proving to the world that the UAE is the country of science, knowledge, the future and sustainability.

Dr Ahmad Belhoul Al Falasi is the UAE's Minister of State for Higher Education and Advanced Skills