SHARJAH // An engineering degree to better equip Emiratis for management roles will be launched in the autumn.
The course in industrial engineering will help graduates to move more easily up the career ladder in fields such as logistics and manufacturing.
Dr Yousef Al Assaf, dean of engineering at the American University of Sharjah (AUS), said research with companies such as Emirates Aluminium and Aramex had shown there was great demand for the degree.
"We are being told there is a shortage of Emirati engineers by several industries and companies such as Atic [Advanced Technology Investment Company], Enec [Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation] and Adnoc [Abu Dhabi National Oil Company]," Dr Al Assaf said.
He said many of the private university's graduates became managers after two years but lacked the necessary skills.
As a result, they had to return to study for either a master's in business administration or in engineering systems management, focusing on areas such as quality control and supply chains.
"It's not like business management," Mr Al Assaf said. "There are specific skills. This will allow Emiratis to be able to be managers but also have the engineering skills by focusing on those in the first two years.
"We're giving them the skills of engineering and management without making them come back."
The degree's consultative board includes representatives from entities such as Dubai Municipality and the Dubai Executive Council.
In the US, industrial engineers held 14 per cent of 1.6 million engineering jobs in 2008, ranked after civil and mechanical engineers.
The number of industrial engineers is also expected grow by 14 per cent over the next decade, faster than any other occupation in the US.
Similar effects have been seen in the Arabian Gulf region. In Saudi Arabia, almost 90 per cent of new graduates in industrial engineering are employed within six months of graduating.
Dr Al Assaf is convinced the new degree will be relevant to enough disciplines to make it more attractive than specialised areas such as civil or electrical engineering.
"This programme would provide the local market with extremely needed abilities and knowledge, where efficiency counts," said Amjad Dakhnous, production manager at Gulf Dura Industries in Ras Al Khaimah.
"And [it] would standardise the profession in areas like operations, planning and material management … I personally have difficulty in finding the right people for these jobs."
Neeru Nair, general manager at Joseph Sign Systems in Dubai, said the course curriculum must take into account many aspects of modern industry.
"Industrial engineering is a traditional name for the engineering discipline that concentrates on making things and getting things done effectively, efficiently, and with high quality," Mr Nair said.
"Our organisation does require professional engineers who will be working in an environment where cost effectiveness, high productivity and effective use of resources are crucial."
Only 15 per cent of AUS engineers are Emiratis. Most of them are sponsored by companies, guaranteeing employment. But industry is crying out for more local talent.
In the school of engineering, 30 per cent of students drop out in the first two years for reasons ranging from failing the course, to changing to something deemed less challenging.
Dr Thomas Hochstettler, provost at AUS, said it was vital for the university to listen to industry feedback when introducing degrees.
"We are always looking at ways of better serving the community," Dr Hochstettler said.
"Our academics have always been engaged with the local community and industry in order to connect the students to the employers."
He said feedback for curriculum design was crucial for the proposal to the commission for academic accreditation, the section of the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research that approves, regulates and accredits degrees.