Skills modernization is vital to power a digital-first world

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Addressing the skills shortage requires deeper collaboration between government, academia, tech companies, and industry 

By Li Xiangyu (SpaceLee), Vice President of Huawei Middle East

Li Xiangyu (Spacelee), VP of Huawei Middle East

The link between digitization and economic development is now well-established. According to the World Economic Forum, an estimated 70% of new value created in the economy over the next decade will be based on digitally-enabled platform business models. 

Nevertheless, these gains will not equally extend to every country or community, partly because the skills needed to exploit these innovations are limited. People in the Middle East and beyond must have equal access to technology and education for re-skilling, or the existing digital gap will continue to widen. 

In the region, the next stage of digitization could prove even more challenging to navigate if the skills gap is not effectively addressed. New investments in ubiquitous 5G connectivity, cloud computing, AI, and cybersecurity resilience require highly advanced ICT skills. Innovations in 4IR technologies mean that new specialties are constantly emerging across vertical industries. By one estimate, 65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately work in job types that don’t yet exist. Yet these emerging jobs and industries of the future are crucial for the region’s post-oil economic transformation. 

There are various ways to address the digital skills shortage, of course. But they must all be built around collaboration between government, academia, tech companies, and champions of industry. What does this collaboration look like in practical terms?

For one, there’s a need to tackle the divergence between universities’ curricula and the skills industry requires. Here, educational institutions should join forces with technology companies and industry to ensure their courses are not outdated and are relevant to current needs. Technology companies must also avail internship opportunities for IT students to immerse themselves in real-world technology applications.    

Related to this is the fact that, traditionally, education has primarily been the purview of academic institutions and the government. Private companies now need to become more active partners in revolutionizing education, as they are often more in tune with real-world industry needs. They possess the expertise, experience, and resources to help academics and governments explore emerging digital transformation trends. Tech companies should see themselves as knowledge partners to the communities in which they operate. 

Such partnerships must emphasize the value of specialized domains within the broader science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEMS) space. The World Economic Forum says that STEM skills must be included “in the basic definition of literacy” if we want to empower the next generation to address global challenges. Literacy then must include 21st-century skills as described by the OECD; mathematical literacy, scientific literacy, digital literacy, and so on. These must be further complemented by competencies in critical thinking, creativity, teamwork, and cross-cultural awareness. Luckily across the region, there is a legacy of institutions specializing in science and technology specifically. New academic institutions, particularly at the post-graduate level, are recognized globally as high-tech training and research centers.  

In parallel, enterprises themselves must embrace the philosophy of life-long learning. This means constantly upskilling their workforce through formal training and on-the-job programs. This allows organizations to future-proof their workforce with the practical skills of an ever-changing landscape. In fact, a lack of learning and development path is often cited as one of the main factors why skilled professionals seek opportunities elsewhere. Constantly upskilling one’s workforce will thus significantly boost staff retention capabilities, particularly in the ICT field, where getting a replacement is increasingly difficult.

To this end, Huawei is committed to promoting the development of the ICT talent ecosystem in the countries where it operates. Through our annual Seeds for the Future program—the latest iteration of which is concluding now in the Middle East—we are helping to immerse university students in a cross-cultural environment and knowledge-sharing atmosphere with global experts. Before this latest round, the program had already been implemented in 131 countries and regions internationally, reaching 9,000 students from over 500 universities and gaining endorsement from more than 120 heads of state and high-level government officials globally. It is but one of the various CSR programs Huawei runs throughout the year.

By fostering collaboration between academia, governments, and industry, we can all ensure that the benefits of technology innovations are distributed more equitably. This will in turn support the region’s sustainable development and drive all industries’ long-term growth.