UAE students must be digitally literate to thrive in job market, experts say

Technological advances are transforming the career landscape and shaping recruitment strategies for firms

Attendees use laptop computers in the Hackathon area at the Bosch Internet of Things (IoT) conference, in Berlin, Germany, on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018. Bosch raked in record profit and revenue last year and foresees more growth in 2018 even as the German auto-parts giant wrestles with weakness in the scandal-beset diesel segment that might be compounded by controversial air-quality tests on monkeys. Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg
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The rapid rise of digital industries is transforming the workplace landscape in the UAE and prompting employers to focus recruitment on graduates with relevant degrees, experts said.

Students equipped with skills in IT-related disciplines such as cybersecurity, data analysis and e-commerce are putting themselves in pole position to land top jobs.

One UAE recruiter said his clients are intent on enhancing their 'online presence' and require staff qualified to cope with the demands of the digital age.

The message comes as thousands of teenagers across the country get set to receive A-Level results which will play a major part in guiding their future plans, be it heading to university, taking a gap year or putting a foot on the career ladder.

“At this moment there’s quite a big trend to digitalisation and e-commerce. A lot of clients are looking for people with digital marketing or e-commerce or who are coming from a computer science background,” said Waleed Anwar, managing partner at Harmony Connections, a Dubai-based recruitment consultancy.

“It’s a new trend in this region. A lot of our clients, particularly in retail and consumer goods, are looking at their presence online. Everyone is moving towards e-commerce.”

He said there was also high demand in the Emirates for graduates with more general business studies or commerce degrees.

Carving out a career in the IT field can be lucrative.

According to the College Salary Report in the United States, computer science graduates with up to five years' experience earn on average $68,800 (Dh252,710), while for software engineers the figure is $69,100 (Dh253,810), for cybersecurity graduates $55,000 (Dh202,020) and for business graduates it is $46,500 (Dh170,800).

In comparison, history graduates can expect to earn $44,000 (Dh161,620) annually in their first five years, while English literature graduates collect $43,600 (Dh160,150).

A report published by the Dubai Statistics Centre in May indicated that learners already have technology in mind when deciding what subjects to study at university.

The figures revealed that 4,359 of the 55,820 students in the city were enrolled in IT courses in 2017-18, more than were taking subjects such as healthcare and medicine, law and natural and physical sciences.

A university in Dubai will this year begin offering a course that teaches students video­game development and digital animation.

Starting in September, the University of Wollongong in Dubai will launch the four-year course in which students will learn about game design, animation, visual communications, mobile applications, journalism, graphic design and social media.

“We are trying to anticipate the kind of technical skills that students will require in the coming years and are planning for jobs that do not exist yet,” said Dr Feras Hamza, head of the School of Humanities, Social Sciences and Health.

In terms of degrees and higher apprenticeships, certainly the largest area is digital

A similar focus on emerging digital subject areas is being seen outside the UAE, too. Ann Starkie, who runs a UK-based careers guidance agency, AS Careers, said that while courses linked to established professions such as medicine, law and engineering all offered good career opportunities, digital subjects were becoming increasingly important.

“Within IT you have things like cybersecurity degrees, which have become quite prevalent,” she said.

However, she said that young people should look beyond simply their choice of subject by also securing work experience in the area that they want to go into, as this puts them “way ahead” in the job market.

Alan Bullock, who runs Alan Bullock Careers and has given talks to schools in the UAE about career options, said that digital industries offered opportunities for both graduates and non-graduates. In the UK, he said, many train through higher apprenticeships, programmes in which employees study part time towards qualifications.

Dubai, August 15, 2013 -  (L to R) Emma Langley checks her year 13 A level results as her mother, Nicky Langley, embraces her classmate, Alice Taylor at Jumeirah College in Dubai, August 15, 2013. (Photo by: Sarah Dea/The National, Story by: Caline Malek) *** Local Caption ***  SDEA150813-A-Levels_Dubai03.JPG
Waiting for exam results is nerve-racking for pupils and parents. The National    

“In terms of degrees and higher apprenticeships, certainly the largest area is digital. We’re talking about things like software development, cybersecurity, data analysis, software testers, network engineers,” he said.

“Ten years ago, you almost never heard about these jobs; now there’s a big demand. Quite a lot of young people are going into these digital areas,” he said.

Next in line in popularity in terms of apprenticeships, said Mr Bullock, are accountancy and tax, management, engineering and surveying.

Although the university sector has expanded significantly in the UAE, there has recently been a renewed focus on vocational skills.

As reported earlier this week, Emirates Youth Professional School launches in November, offering 15 to 35-year-olds training in fields such as sustainable construction, agriculture, hospital management and data analysis.

Lizzie Crowley, skills adviser at the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development, a UK-based professional organisation, said that in a number of countries there had been a recognition that more people needed training in technical skills and not just academic subjects.

“There has been a bit of a broad trend. They’ve recognised that a degree is not the be-all and end-all and there’s a need to focus on the vocational side,” she said.

Also, Ms Crowley said that large companies in particular now recognised the importance of offering good opportunities to non-graduates as well as graduates, as this helps to ensure the workforce is more diverse.

Although learning vocational skills can open up myriad career opportunities, having a degree is, however, likely to lead to financial benefit, according to Ms Starkie.

“The first thing you will find a difference in is the salary: you will be paid more if you have got a degree,” she said.