Fixing the skills crisis

A scarcity of highly skilled professionals is jeopardising progress in the region's ICT sector.

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By  Administrator Published  March 5, 2008

A scarcity of highly skilled telecom professionals is jeopardising progress in the region's ICT sector.

Although the telecommunications sector in the Middle East has experienced rapid growth in recent years, a lack of ICT skills within the industry is now so acute that it is threatening wider economic growth throughout the region.

A third operator will weaken the other players by draining the skills. I imagine the regional effect of these situations will be catastrophic to the industry.

Sam Alkharrat, MD for Cisco Systems operations in the Gulf and Middle East, says that the gap in the telecoms and IT skills sector will ultimately curb economic growth in the region by 2009, even if the crisis is addressed in the short term.

A 2005 report carried out by research organisation IDC in seven Middle Eastern countries including Pakistan, claims that by 2009 only 65% of the 114,000 job vacancies for skilled telecommunication professionals will be filled in the Middle East region.

According to Alkharrat, there is at present a 27% shortfall of skills in relation to demand in the Middle East telecom and IT sector. It is expected to reach 35% within the next five years and 40% in the next 10 years.

The short supply of skilled professionals in the telecommunications sector versus demand is a worrying concern but is not unique to the region.

Robert Rosenberg, from US based research organisation Insight Analyst says that the crisis is actually endemic on a global scale, with Europe's ICT skills deficit standing at around 11.8% and the US skills deficit at 15%.

Rosenberg says it is the booming economy of the Middle East and particularly the GCC that makes the telecoms and IT skills shortage so apparent.

Analysts have predicted economic growth within the region to reach 16.9% between 2005 and 2009.

Rosenberg says that because a growing economy works in direct conjunction with the ICT sector it will battle to sustain itself due the lack of manpower to hold it. This economic boom is expected to slow in order to allow the skills base to replenish.

Telecoms expertise

The telecommunications sector is one of the hardest hit areas within the ICT industry when it comes to skills scarcity due to the very nature of the rapidly growing industry, according to Dr. Hamad Odahbi, Dean of Career Programs at Abu Dhabi Men's Technical College.

The primary need is for engineers, most specifically electrical and electronic engineers, and to a lesser extent mechanical, he says.

The widespread take-up of fibre-optic voice and data capacity networks and the diverse range of mobile telecommunications applications have expanded the industry hugely, increasing the demand for skilled labourers to service the industry.

He notes that the rise of 3G technologies accommodating triple-play functions is an added concern for the industry as the phenomenon only means a larger thirst for highly skilled telecommunication professionals, which are already scarce.

Research shows that that the biggest skills deficit lies in the sectors which require more advanced training, such as security, wireless and IP telephony. It is estimated that by 2009, the highly skilled people gap will be at 64,200 in the region.

Liberalised markets

Liberalised telecom markets are adding fuel to the skills shortage as competitive new entrants require a highly skilled labour force. Each new entrant requires around 1200 skilled employees to maintain a telecom business operation.

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