Time to teach

It may have been overlooked by many networking vendors in the region to date, but 2006 looks set to be the year when producing a technically skilled workforce finally takes centre stage in the Middle East market for many vendors.

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By  Stuart Wilson Published  January 8, 2006

|~||~||~|It may have been overlooked by many networking vendors in the region to date, but 2006 looks set to be the year when producing a technically skilled workforce finally takes centre stage in the Middle East market for many vendors. The very fact that network management itself has become more demanding, moving beyond a simple break-fix role to one that encompasses a wide range of high-end skills required to obtain maximum network performance within the IT environment, has driven the need for increased education levels within the Middle East IT labour market. As the level of technical expertise required to manage a network properly has increased, so too has the difficulty in recruiting and retaining the skilled employees needed to take on this role. With more and more companies now looking to install cutting-edge IT networks to derive business benefits, vendors are starting to realise that ensuring a ready supply of skilled professionals (that can be recruited by employers at reasonable salaries) can give them a competitive edge in the market. Cisco has already invested significant resources to establish network academies across the region including ten in Iraq with support from the United Nations. This move into Iraq is testament to the importance of building up a skilled workforce as quickly as possible in markets at an early stage of development. More than ever, vendors are now looking to tie training and education into a specific set of skills that are related uniquely to their own product sets — as opposed to providing those taking the courses with a generic set of skills that are transferable across multiple vendors offerings. Undoubtedly, some of the skills acquired are transferable, but increasingly in the networking arena, various certifications and qualifications are tied to one particular vendor. We’re also witnessing an increased trend for vendors to look at how they can actually tie up with universities and further education establishments to train up the next generation of network professionals before they even hit the IT workplace. 3Com is one vendor with big plans to accelerate its learning initiatives in the Middle East during 2006 and harbours plans to link up with key educational establishments in the region to further its goals. 3Com will have some way to go to catch up with Cisco, which has already developed extensive networking education programmes across the region. For example, in Saudi Arabia, Cisco opened an all-women networking academy at Effat College, Jeddah in September 2005. The initiative has strong support from Saudi authorities and Cisco is also working with the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) to ensure that female graduates from the academy find positions in female-only IT sections of schools, banks and other organisations. It is also worth noting that in Jordan some 40% of all Cisco networking academy students are female. Developing an educated workforce and an ample supply of skilled labour goes hand-in-hand with striving for greater market share in the Middle East. You can’t sell a networking solution to a customer if there’s nobody within the end-user organisation to manage and oversee it. It is something that smaller vendors need to realise, especially if they bemoan the fact that customers routinely select one of the global giants over and above their niche offering. This is why network education has become so important in the Middle East during the last twelve months. The only way this will ever really change is if customers start to embrace remote management of their networks. At present, the propensity of customers to choose this option remains severely limited in the Middle East and, as such, the need for vendors to provide a skilled and plentiful workforce within the region for their solutions will persist throughout 2006. ||**||

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