x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

A hands-on way to grow the economy

Expansion of vocational training for Emirati youth is a sound way to tackle a couple of issues at once.

The modern world offers few simple career prospects. To be sure, there are certain jobs that demand almost no skills and little training, but these generally provide neither good salaries nor much job satisfaction.

The dawning era of the "knowledge economy" does, however, offer many interesting career choices that would have mystified this region's older generation, from computer repair to jet-engine maintenance to supply-chain management. But these skilled trades, and many others, are open only to those with specialised knowledge.

In our society and our time, the educational attainment and job prospects for young Emirati males, in particular, are a concern for parents and policymakers alike. So there is a welcome element of logic in this week's announcement by the Abu Dhabi Executive Council, that the number of vocational schools in the country will more than double, from four to nine.

Abu Dhabi has a historic role in supporting some educational ventures in the Northern Emirates, and this initiative is in that useful tradition.

The plan is among measures made public this week as the latest elements in sweeping long-term plans to build a robust, diverse economy. One other important item in the package was expansion of scholarship support for university study. But university is not for everyone.

Skilled-trades training has not been the most successful part of the educational system in the UAE, and this measure, amounting almost to a restart of the system, should provide a lustre and allure that will attract the interest of many potential students.

As female attainment in higher education exceeds that of men, a new emphasis on skilled trades makes sense. Studies in many countries have found that many young men find it easier to learn in a hands-on way than from books. And it is a common notion among parents that boys are naturally interested in seeing how complex objects function.

There is, in other words, a distinct male bias towards tinkering - with engines, computers and anything else boys can get at.

Translating this trait into a series of well-funded and well-managed schools to produce the skilled tradesmen society needs, each graduate having the prospect of making a good living by doing useful work, promises to be a truly rewarding investment.