Young Emiratis have a real appetite for careers in the vital field of engineering, as Masdar's graduating class demonstrates, the Institute's president writes.
Emirati engineering grads are ready to build the country
The strategy of Emiratisation grows steadily more important. Sustainable prosperity demands that citizens be productive participants in the economic system, supporting it rather than having to be supported.
Even more crucially, a greater Emirati presence in the private as well as the public sector is needed to transform the UAE into a "knowledge economy", as laid out in Abu Dhabi's Vision 2030 goals.
In an economy based on knowledge and skills, rather than natural resources or manufacturing, the real asset is people, who are trained and positioned to use their skills and what they have learnt.
Capital- and technology-intensive industries are the main components of a knowledge economy, and this approach is believed to be the best use of the UAE's limited local manpower.
High-tech industries such as aerospace, aviation, metallurgy, semiconductors and nanotechnology - all being pursued by Abu Dhabi - depend heavily on automation and intelligent systems, which in turn demand relatively few experts, but highly knowledgeable ones. By educating and training Emiratis to fill these positions, the Government can ensure that its citizens enjoy a satisfying lifestyle as integral elements of the national prosperity.
The perceived challenge to the Emiratisation strategy has been a belief that Emiratis do not want to become technical specialists, but prefer to work in government or commerce.
Masdar Institute, preparing to graduate our largest-ever percentage of Emirati students next Wednesday, has found that perception to be wrong. Since we opened our classrooms five years ago, we have been approached each year by more and more Emiratis attracted to our sustainability-focused engineering degrees. Our student body is now 40 per cent citizens, in line with similar figures at top 50 US graduate schools of engineering.
In light of this, the challenge now for Emiratisation is for the economy to provide gainful employment for highly skilled Emirati graduates. As we are doing our part to prepare a new cadre of engineers, and scientists, industry needs to advance at the same pace. Knowledge-intensive industry, entrepreneurial start-ups and a robust research and development infrastructure are needed to give graduates the opportunities and facilities to innovate, compete and succeed.
Masdar now offers a "reverse internship" in which working professionals are brought in from industry to study part-time to gain their specialised Masters' degrees.
These professionals will be able to return to their duties with greater knowledge and understanding, which will help their companies to evolve.
We are also launching the UAE's first Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center, bringing together scientists, officials, investors, and people from industry. The Center will focus on transmitting ideas from the lab to industry by way of mentorship, graduate and executive education programmes in technical management, entrepreneurship and innovation, and access to investors geared towards incubating start-up companies.
Transforming the UAE into a knowledge economy also requires greater focus on merit and rewards. To cultivate innovation, we must have an environment of competition, scientific rigour and fairness.
We can facilitate this by maintaining the highest standards for education and employment, and rewarding those who pursue greatness and achieve results - Emiratis and expatriates alike. Both groups are needed, since the current rate of economic growth in the UAE far outstrips Emirati population growth.
For the UAE to become a prosperous knowledge economy, we must compete globally. If we are to be competitive, excellence must be rewarded, regardless of its source.
Therefore we recommend adoption of policy and strategies for human resource development consistent with the policies and strategies the UAE has adopted to reach the desired economic and social goals for the country.
This would contribute to establishing the UAE's knowledge-intensive businesses and industries as the kind of world-class entities that talented young Emiratis would like to be part of, in turn opening up for the next generation of youth valid goals to which they can aspire.
Dr Fred Moavenzadeh is President of Masdar Institute of Science and Technology in Abu Dhabi