Artificial intelligence is being tipped to be the UAE's most important industry over the next 10 years, with universities urged to step up efforts to prepare the next generation of high-tech workers.
The fast-rising sector was ranked ahead of construction, electronics, aerospace, robotics, design engineering and IT and cybersecurity in a poll of technology and engineering employees in the Emirates.
The UAE government is driving forwards with ambitious plans to establish itself as a global AI hub.
In 2017, the country appointed Omar Al Olama as its first Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence and later adopted the National Artificial Intelligence Strategy 2031 to promote the growth of the cutting-edge technology.
The Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence in Abu Dhabi was established in 2019 to develop the skills of top talent from across the world to lead workplaces of the future.
The survey, commissioned by the UK-based Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), and carried out by YouGov, polled 325 employers and employees in the UAE in December 2021 and January 2022.
Julian Young, IET president, said artificial intelligence would most certainly continue to grow in prominence.
“Alongside that, I would almost add everything to do with digitalisation. Everything in the future in a highly advanced technological community, will be about digitalisation and getting computers to do far more work for us," said Mr Young.
“So if one has a skilled workforce in this field, one would be able to make a profitable company and a profitable organisation — and be a truly global player.
“I'm not surprised to see that these are the skill sets that are required in three years' time, that these are the skill sets required in 10 years' time.
"If you pick up artificial intelligence and then think about the type of courses that people are undertaking. Do we need courses in artificial intelligence? Yes, of course. But in the more traditional areas of engineering, mechanical, electrical, electronic aerospace, there needs to be a digital component."
He said all of the traditional industries need digital and software and computer science inputs to be able to make the best of their workforce.
Education must keep pace with career trends
Ian Mercer, head of international operations for the Institution of Engineering and Technology, said universities could use the findings to ensure their courses run parallel to the immediate and future demands of the economy.
"If I were an academician, then I would be thinking, 'if that's where the where the industry is going to go then the courses that we're going to offer to students probably need to be ramped up to be where the need is going to be'," Mr Mercer said.
"At the end of the day, universities want jobs to be available for the people that they put through the system.
"If you look at the the ambitions of the UAE government, they want to become a tech hub of the world."
He said that in a post-oil and gas economy, technology may be one of the main workforce providers in the region.
The UAE is continuing to explore ways in which artificial intelligence can be used to boost business, make government departments more agile and efficient, and support health services.
Artificial intelligence could soon be used to tailor UAE government employees’ working hours to their own personal productivity.
The initiative, which is being studied by the Federal Authority for Government Human Resources, is one of a host of practical applications for AI in everyday life.
In March, 41 business leaders who took a three-month course at Mohamed bin Zayed University for Artificial Intelligence, celebrated their graduation.
The course aimed to support UAE government and business sectors. Participants were required to complete 12 rigorous weeks of coursework, lectures and collaborative project work.
Dr Jamal Al Kaabi, undersecretary at the Department of Health in Abu Dhabi, joined the programme after the Covid-19 pandemic made him realise the potential of artificial intelligence.
He believes wearable technology and AI could be crucial in providing home services and follow-up care for the elderly.