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Middle East skills gap on the up

Cisco study predicts shortage of 102,108 skilled IT workers in 2015

Middle East skills gap on the up
Pepper: It's very difficult to keep up with the demand on the skills side

The Middle East was short of 47,945 skilled networking employees in 2012, and that number will grow to 102,108 in 2015, according to Dr Robert Pepper, vice president of global technology policy, Cisco.

Outlining the findings a recent Cisco report on the global skills shortage at Cisco Connect UAE last week, Pepper said that the skills gap in the UAE is increasing at a compound annual growth rate of 32%. This would mean that, by the end of 2015, the UAE IT skills gap will be 45%, he said.

Speaking to ITP.net, Pepper explained that the gap was a direct result of what he described as the "good news" - the fact that the UAE is embarking on a period of intense digitisation. The flip side of this is that the country faces a shortage in the number of skilled IT workers required to turn these digital dreams into reality.

"As we would say in Silicon Valley, the UAE gets it. You have a high percentage of the people in leadership positions in government that have technical or even engineering backgrounds and training," he said.

"It's growing fast, so it's very difficult to keep up with the demand on the skills side. It's the result of the good-news story, and just trying to keep up, the gap is getting bigger."

Pepper said that this skills gap could affect the speed with which the UAE realises the digital goals set out by the country's leadership. However, he also outlined policy recommendations that could help to lessen the gap, claiming that the UAE was already embarking on some of them.

His first recommendation was to ensure that computer science was being properly taught in elementary and secondary school. Secondly, he advised making it easier for people to embark on mid-career training. And finally, he said that a good immigration policy is required, so that the country can easily import the skills that it needs.

On that last point, Pepper said that the UAE was indeed pursuing a forward-thinking immigration policy.

"They recognise we need people and that we should people to meet our needs because it's in our national interest to grow the economy and have those skills. Other countries in the region are not as open or progressive on their immigration policy, and as a result, their gap is even larger, and growing faster," he said.

"Our study identifies that the skills gap in Saudi Arabia is at 78%. They do not have the same approach on immigration as the UAE does."

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