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Safeguarding Our Greatest Asset

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Safeguarding Our Greatest Asset

Dimitris Tsouroplis, Director of Human Resources at Crescent Enterprises, on how human capital development is a priority in the face of a Fifth Industrial Revolution.

Industrial development is taking place at an exponential rate, and human capital development is hot on its heels every step of the way. So, what do we do while we anticipate the Fifth Industrial Revolution?

Businesses are keen to harness technological solutions to drive productivity, efficiency and sustainability. As demand for these solutions grows, so does the pressure placed on governments, CEOs, educators and industry leaders to acknowledge looming concerns. Two main questions resonate: How is technology going to change what we do, and how are we going to prepare people to do it? We now have one pressing priority, and that is to best prepare the human capital of today, to keep up with the workforce demands of tomorrow.

In a technology-driven world, littered with challenge and reward, we must align to ensure that no one is left behind in the flurry of great transformation and rapid change. Fearmongering has perpetuated the very same myth since the 1800s, that we will all soon be out of jobs as automation prevails. We need to remember that the impact of technology on traditional roles has always been a concern, even before the First Industrial Revolution over 200 years ago. We are still a long way away from living in a world where full automation is imminent. This does not mean that the skills needed to get us there should be any less of a focus. The learnings of the past remain our most reliable tool as we prepare for the future and now more than ever, it is imperative that companies recognize human capital as an investment, not a liability.

To resign artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, big data and connectivity to the realm of disruptive technologies is to do them a disservice. They are today’s fastest-growing industries, approaching the existing pool of talent with a growing appetite for a capable workforce – one that can take the proverbial bull by the horns and do things better, faster, and with unparalleled efficiency. While driving sectoral growth and creating a demand for these industries, these technologies are making a whole host of jobs defunct. If we expect to grow, we have to understand that we need to shift our focus from developing skills for jobs that soon will not exist. Technology disciplines cannot be ignored as a critical addition to today’s educational curriculums globally. Higher education’s current model is already out of sync with the educational demands of our population, and if we are to maximize opportunities, the journey starts now.

We are not naive to cite automation as a modern-day phenomenon. Today, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is upon us as the pressure of depleting natural resources looms. Jim Yong Kim, former Group President of the World Bank, prophesized that the greatest challenge of the future would be to prepare younger generations with skills irrespective of future job prospects. Problem-solving and critical thinking remain key skills to be nurtured irrespective of roles, while empathy and collaboration are also considered leading skills to be seeded in future generations. The Institute of The Future’s (IFTF) Future Work Skills 2020 report explores the driving role key skills such as adaptive thinking, social intelligence, virtual collaborations, cross-cultural competencies, and design mindsets play in driving competitiveness. As students, eventually a workforce, and a society, we must prepare for this. According to PwC’s 21st CEO Survey, availability of key skills was cited as one of the top five threats identified by CEOs. While there may be many opportunities in this Fourth Industrial revolution, there are tangible concerns that the workforce may not be able to keep up.

The evolution of the educational journey in the Middle East has been a remarkable one. What was once a country with a handful of schools in the 1950s, the UAE is now home to some of the top universities and educational institutions in the world. Students no longer have to travel abroad to pursue studies; the UAE is now a preferred destination for education for many students across the globe thanks to the establishment of world-class universities. Not only have we taken global best practices and implemented them, but we have also come up with our own indigenous approach to tackling challenges, including education and unemployment. Driving the development of our people and unlocking opportunities for socio-economic growth remain top priorities.

The education system is ripe for transformation and to stay relevant, it must be modernized. In the UAE, the focus is on not only modernizing the curricula but cultivating talent to support national development across key sectors. Tackling employability through reform means we can look forward to nurturing a pool of talent, attractive to global and local organizations. Few facets of our daily lives remain untouched by technology. Given its bearing on transformation, we would be forgiven in thinking its purpose is that of a transformative tool. The general policies, practices, strategies, and conventions are being interrupted; and they are the tools that we should focus on developing and implementing.

Concentrating our efforts on educating the younger generations should not come at the cost of displacing the existing workforce. Businesses, policymakers, regulators and educators will need to work together to develop agile learners through education and training. The onus lies not with the purveyors of technology, but with regulators and education authorities to indeed innovate the business model itself. Skills gaps amongst workers and senior leadership is a key contributing factor in obstructing technology adoption and hampering business growth. Working to close these gaps facilitates the transition of a workforce to enable full adoption and success of these very same technologies.

The challenge is faced not only when working to harness technology but also when working to set the parameters in which that very technology operates. Only through the review and revival of these parameters can we begin to ensure the delivery of education that is affordable and accessible. New challenges demand new skills and technology moves at a pace which, if left unmatched by educators and authorities, will prove to be more of a hindrance than a help.

Opinions expressed in this piece belong to the author.

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