ABU DHABI // Preparations for life after oil will step up a gear this year, as the first batches of Emiratis start courses designed to get them ready to run the industries expected to dominate Abu Dhabi's future economy.
The emirate is pinning its post-oil hopes on nuclear energy and semiconductor technology and wants both to be primarily staffed by nationals.
As yet, virtually no Emiratis have the skills they will need - so the training effort starts here. Founded last year as part of the Institute of Applied Technology (IAT), the Abu Dhabi Polytechnic is luring students to study for higher diplomas in both fields with promises of free tuition, Dh4,000 monthly grants and free housing to those living outside the capital.
They will also be guaranteed well-paid jobs with Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation and Advanced Technology Investment Company (Atic).
In the capital alone, around 800 teenagers have expressed interest in the 160 places - 60 in nuclear engineering, and 100 in semiconductors. So far, 100 have applied.
The polytechnic will take its first students in September and prepare them to work in a nuclear plant - scheduled to open in 2017 - and a semiconductor plant - due in 2015.
Atic is aiming to have 550 Emirati staff at the microchip plant.
"What's going to define our success is the student community being completely aware of the complexity and advancement of this industry," said Khaled al Shamlan, project manager at Atic.
Students need to know, he said, "that this industry should be driving all other industries". In any microchip factory, he added, operators and technicians with higher diplomas should account for about two-thirds of the staff - and currently Abu Dhabi has none.
Within 10 years, the emirate wants chip-making to contribute between US$3 billion (Dh11bn) and $4bn of its gross domestic product and to create between 3,000 and 6,000 jobs. The first year of the course will include a placement abroad.
The recruitment drive willinclude IAT youngsters from 13 years old, with the message that university is not the only option.
"We can't afford to lose time training them to get a degree and then the time it takes to specialise afterwards," said Abdullatif al Shamsi, IAT's managing director. "Things are moving very quickly and we have to build the excitement for the industry early."
The diplomas can be topped up to degrees later, if desired.
At the Sorbonne, the French university, students on the masters in international law and diplomacy, will now take a module in nuclear energy law, the first of its kind in the UAE.
Two specialist lecturers, from France and Austria, will teach students about the legal issues surrounding radiological protection, nuclear safety, radioactive waste management and transport of nuclear materials.
They are highly technical areas with civilian and military implications, according to Dr Jean-Yves de Cara, the executive director of Paris-Sorbonne Abu Dhabi.
"If you decide to use nuclear energy, there are many risks which require many precautions and very precise regulation which protects everyone from risk - the government and the population."
Emirates Nuclear Energy is pushing the links with academia elsewhere, too. Khalifa University will soon take its first six nuclear engineering masters students, a course that will guarantee them jobs at either the corporation, the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation or Khalifa University.
The energy corporation hopes eventually to take 15 students a year, to supply some of the 2,500 experts that the four planned nuclear plants will need when they begin operation from 2017. The course has been drawn up jointly between the corporation and Khalifa University.
THE FUTURE ECONOMY
Four nuclear power plants will open in Abu Dhabi emirate after 2017
5,500 people are needed to staff plants
11 billion dirhams is estimated income from chipmaking over the next 10 years
160 nuclear and semiconductor technicians will start diploma programmes in September
3,000 jobs expected in chipmaking over the next 10 years
4,000 dirhams is monthly grant given to students on diploma programmes
550 Emiratis needed for the first microchip plant in 2015