While oil wealth may generate significant income for a state, it is essentially its people that can ensure its future and security for generations to come.
Investment in human capital has been highlighted as one of the key pillars for the economic visions of many of the Arabian Gulf states. The UAE Government in particular has been encouraging both the public and private sectors to develop local talent through Emiratisation and other human capital efforts. From the energy sector and high-tech industries to media and the arts, local and international firms have been investing in developing Emirati talent for the future as a knowledge-based economy.
"On the front lines of developing our future knowledge economy, corporations have a clear sense of where talent will be needed five-10 years in the future and can take targeted and measured approaches to meeting those needs," says Hanan Harhara, the head of human capital at the Advanced Technology Investment Company (Atic), a subsidiary of Mubadala.
Atic's human capital programmes have reached nearly 1,000 Emiratis to date. The Abu Dhabi Government has highlighted this lucrative sector as a major area of investment to diversify its economy away from oil. Working with its GlobalFoundries semiconductor chip fabrication plants in New York, Dresden and Singapore, the company has trained both undergraduate and graduate students in these facilities as part of its Al Nokhba programme. Some go on to securing full-time positions. Atic also works with younger students through its Tech Quest programme, reaching students at a younger age to reinforce their interest in science and technology.
According to statistics from Unesco, about 24 per cent of all UAE graduates with a tertiary degree read a science, technology, engineering and mathematics subject. That's about 4,000 graduates who can potentially benefit the UAE's high-tech and energy sectors.
"Youth interest already exists to engage in subjects relevant to the future knowledge economy. What companies can do and what we work to do through our human capital programmes is help bridge the gap between youth interest and industry demand," says Ms Harhara.
Some internships are more modest in size, but no less important. Sky News Arabia has taken on seven Emirati student interns this summer to train talent for the local media industry. The training is part of the Sky News Arabia Programme (Snap), which is now in its second year.
"The media sector provides a wealth of career opportunities for fresh graduates. The Sky News Arabia Programme opens up this world of opportunities to a new generation of Emiratis to explore and hopefully build long-term careers," says Mahra Al Yaqoobi, the manager of Snap. "Sky News Arabia is committed to developing local and Arab talent, and through our workshops and internships we give the students an opportunity to develop their skills and gain practical experience."
It is believed that these sorts of programmes can help drive innovation, which can in turn help an economy become more globally competitive. The UAE currently ranks 38th in the Global Innovation Index, a report put together by Cornell University, Insead and the World Intellectual Property Organisation (Wipo). It assesses a country's institutions, human capital and research, infrastructure and market and business sophistication to gauge its level of innovation. The UAE scored 50 out of 100 for its human capital and research efforts, the highest score in the region.
"The biggest challenge in all countries, the one they are all fighting and struggling with is how do you create and educate innovators," says Bruno Lanvin, a co-editor of the report and executive director of Insead's European Competitiveness Initiative. "They are the biggest source of success. Young people are extremely entrepreneurial and imaginative and vibrant."
Many of the internship programmes are now drawing to a close, having opened up new opportunities and experiences for local talent. But it is not just the internships and placements that take place within the UAE that can benefit the economy, going abroad and taking advantage of opportunities outside the country are just as beneficial.
"Work abroad is extremely critical to Abu Dhabi and as an economy if we aspire to be globally competitive. We need to ensure the talent behind the delivery of those objectives is talent that is globally competitive," says Khaled Al Shamlan, the senior vice president within the general management team of GlobalFoundries Singapore. "We need to give them the opportunity to immerse themselves in international experiences that reap the benefits of that. This really works well with the strategic aspirations of Abu Dhabi."