Dubai has a serious skills gap in vocational education, study shows

A study shows that although the UAE is fourth in the world as an international study destination, only a small percentage of students are enroled in vocational education.

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DUBAI // A major gap in workforce skills has been highlighted by a study commissioned by Dubai International Academic City, drawing attention to the critical importance of attracting more people into vocational education.

The study also showed that the UAE ranks fourth in the world as an international study destination.

Only 1 to 3 per cent of academic enrolment in the UAE is in vocational education, compared with a global average of 10 per cent. In some developed economies like Germany and Japan, it is as high as 40 to 50 per cent.

The study, carried out by Deloitte, was presented at the Global Educational Supplies and Solutions Exhibition on Tuesday.

It claimed the UAE will have a manpower gap of 200,000 by 2015, with key industries falling short. Areas found lacking were lecturers in management, accountancy and vocational training, among others.

The panel addressed the fact that attracting students to vocational education and training remains a major obstacle for the country in reaching its economic and social goals.

“Vocational education has been seen as for the students who failed school,” said Kaltham Kenaid, head of research at the Knowledge and Human Development Authority.

“The model that was in place for those students didn’t work [because of the stigma] and it lagged behind. Socially, our understanding is that you need to have a university degree,” said Ms Kenaid.

She said this misguided social pressure is leading to a waste of talent.

“Studies have shown most boys at school lean towards working with their hands. At the same time, about 25 per cent of them do not reach Grade 12. That’s a waste in my opinion and that’s why the model around this should change.”

However, a change will take time.

Abu Dhabi Vocational Education and Training Institute “is slowly changing this”, she said. “How old is the UAE? It will take time.”

Dr Ayoub Kazim, managing director of DIAC and Knowledge Village, said the government is making major strides in pairing vocational education with emerging sectors such as nuclear energy.

“Especially the government in Abu Dhabi,” he said. “Over the past five to seven years, they have introduced the Institutes of Advanced Technology which are now around the country as well as institutions such as Fatima College of Nursing and targeting these niche careers.”

Prof RK Mittal, director of BITS Pilani, the Indian branch campus in Dubai, said for the university, finding locally based talent is “challenging”, meaning lecturers must be hired from abroad. He also said there must be more financial support for such initiatives to really take off.

“The gap is huge and there needs to be more vocational offerings. Whether it’s in communication, hospitality, tourism, all these areas require vocationally trained manpower,” he said.

The research, which covered about 235 corporations, found that after the US, Canada and the UK, the UAE, which has 37 international branch campuses spread around the seven emirates, was the fourth most popular study destination.

“It’s not a surprise that the UAE is a very popular destination for study. DIAC and Knowledge Village are the first of their kind in the world,” said Randa Bessiso, director of Manchester Business School in Dubai.

Her school’s success, she said, “is due to the presence of Knowledge Village and the support we’ve had here giving us the ability to offer our products”.

* The article has been amended since it was first published to reflect that the UAE has 37 international branch campuses spread around the country.