Skills drought leaves Gulf aerospace ambitions on dark side of moon

Alfred Worden is just one of 21 people who have ever been to the moon.
Updated 22 November 2017
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Skills drought leaves Gulf aerospace ambitions on dark side of moon

DUBAI: Among the throngs of executives arriving at the Dubai Airshow last week, few will have recognized the grey-haired guy in the green US flying jacket strolling among the stands.
Col. Alfred Worden, at 85, was older than most at the exhibition – but as the command module pilot for the Apollo 15 lunar mission, he is just one of 21 people who have ever been to the moon.
He arrived in the UAE four days before the event began to talk to school kids in Abu Dhabi with the aim of inspiring young minds to think about a career in aerospace.
He believes it is vital to encourage more children in the region to take up so-called STEM courses – science, technology, engineering and maths.
“Because that is the future of the human race,” he said at the event.
More specifically, it also represents the future of the region’s nascent aerospace industry, which in countries such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, is part of a broader push to add high-value jobs beyond the oil and gas sectors.
Top executives from aviation companies attending the Dubai Airshow have highlighted the challenge facing them as they seek to a build world-class industry in the region but are thwarted both by a lack of school leavers and graduates in STEM subjects as well as a shortage of vocational training in practical aviation engineering skills.
In the US of the 1960s and early ’70s, astronauts were the rock stars of their era — inspiring many kids to focus on that career from an early age. The average age on mission control when Worden went to the moon was 26.
But for a generation that has grown up without the excitement of the moon missions, it has become harder to attract youngsters into the sector.
It is a problem that also extends to the wider aviation industry and is even more acute in the Gulf states where the prospect of well paid jobs in the public sector has historically encouraged a career in government-related jobs for many school leavers.
At a space conference at the Dubai Airshow, UAE higher education minister Dr. Ahmad Belhoul Al-Falasi acknowledged the impact that talking to a real astronaut had on school kids in the Emirates.
He told Worden: “The amount of influence you have with school children is worth more than five ministers put together.”
Since establishing a space agency as well as a mission to Mars, the UAE has been able to attract more school leavers into relevant degree programs – but as in neighboring Saudi Arabia, it has been a challenge to build a pool of local skills big enough to match the requirement in industry.
“We have seen an increase of students in STEM – but specifically in technology and engineering – the science and maths parts or STEM have been lagging,” said the minister. “We have far more engineers than scientists.”
Saudi aviation executives also bemoan the shortage of graduates with the skills needed to build the aviation and aerospace sector that is a central plank of the Kingdom’s economic vision.
Yahya Homoud Al-Ghoraibi, the CEO of Riyadh-based Alsalam Aerospace Industries, believes the real problem is not identifying the graduates but finding the people with the necessary vocational training to perform the work.
“This is a challenging item because we are looking at a high number of people to support the vision,” he told Arab News. “In the Kingdom, we have a lot of engineer graduates — the shortage is in the technical background.”
Ziyad Abdulaziz Almohaimeed, the CEO of Riyadh-based Mas Aviation Services, agreed that there were not currently enough graduates with the skills that the industry needs
“There is a lot of pressure on all companies, especially in defense and aviation, to establish local capability,”
Those localization targets become ever more challenging in industries such as aerospace and aviation when there so many companies chasing so few graduates with the required degrees and training.


Syria’s key border crossings with 2 neighbors reopen

Updated 27 min 37 sec ago
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Syria’s key border crossings with 2 neighbors reopen

  • The reopening of the crossings is a major boost to the Syrian, restoring commercial lifeline to the outside world
  • Arab countries have boycotted the Syrian government since the early days of the war

QUNEITRA, Syria: A vital border crossing between Jordan and Syria reopened on Monday for the first time in three years, promising to restore trade and movement between the two countries that had halted because of the war. Another crossing, between Syria and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, also reopened for UN observers who had left the area four years ago because of fighting there.
The reopening of the crossings is a major boost to the Syrian government of President Bashar Assad, restoring a commercial lifeline to the outside world. It also reinforces the Syrian government’s message that it is slowly emerging victorious from the seven-year conflict.
The Syrian flag was raised at the Quneitra crossing between Syria and the Israeli-held Golan.
UN observers and local notables from the Druze community, the predominant population in the area, gathered near the crossing. The UN observers had left the Quneitra crossing in 2014 for the first time since deploying there in 1974 to monitor a cease-fire and a demilitarized zone. Israel occupied the Golan Heights in 1967.
“It is a day of victory,” Youssef Jarbou, a Druze leader, told the Syrian Al-Ikhbariya TV from Quneitra.
Syrian forces recaptured the Quneitra area in July. Russian military police deployed in the area, including on the edge of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, setting up checkpoints in the area. Moscow said it planned to work closely with the UN force.
Meanwhile, at the Naseeb crossing between Syria and Jordan, dozens of private cars lined up to cross from Jordan. Security personnel and dogs searched the vehicles.
“Today is a feast, a feast for the whole Arab and Islamic nations and for the whole World, this crossing is vital for the whole Arab countries,” said Mohammed Khalil, the first Syrian in line waiting to cross back into his country.
Naseeb’s reopening would bring major financial relief to Assad’s government by restoring a much-needed gateway for Syrian exports to Arab countries. The resumption of commercial trade through the crossing will also be a diplomatic victory for Assad, whose government has been isolated from its Arab neighbors since the war began in 2011.
Arab countries have boycotted the Syrian government since the early days of the war, freezing its membership in the 22-member state Arab League.
“The Naseeb crossing is a vital lifeline for trade between the two brotherly countries Jordan and Syria through them to other Arab countries,” Jordan government spokeswoman Jumana Ghunaimat said.
Syrian rebels seized the crossing in 2015, disrupting a major trade route between Syria and Jordan, Lebanon and oil-rich Gulf countries.
Syrian government troops recaptured it in July, after rebels reached an agreement with Russian mediators to end the violence in the southern province of Daraa and surrender the crossing.
The crossing is also vital for Syria’s neighbor Lebanon, providing its agricultural products a route to foreign markets.
The recapture of Naseeb marked a major victory for Assad’s forces, which have been on a winning streak since 2015 when Russia threw its military weight behind Damascus. The victory in southern Syria signaled the return of his forces to Daraa province where the uprising against him began seven years ago.