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.


Treasury Secretary: US ‘could not be happier’ with Bahrain outcome

Updated 8 min 15 sec ago
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Treasury Secretary: US ‘could not be happier’ with Bahrain outcome

  • Mnuchin confident of raising the first $4 billion soon

MANAMA: Jared Kushner’s “workshop” aimed at securing economic prosperity for Palestine closed with optimistic forecasts from President Donald Trump’s special adviser that it could be the basis for a forthcoming political deal with Israel.

Kushner told journalists at a post-event briefing: “I think that people are all leaving very energized, very pleasantly surprised at how many like-minded people they see. It is a solvable problem economically, and the reason why we thought it was important to lay out the economic vision before we lay out the political vision is because we feel we need people to see what the future can look like.

“The Palestinian people have been promised a lot of things over the years that have not come true. We want to show them that this is the plan, this is what can happen if there is a peace deal.”

The next stage, before a political deal is attempted, will be to get feedback from the event and agree to commitments for the $50 billion package for Palestine and other regional economies.

“I think you need $50 billion to really do this the right way, to get a paradigm shift,” Kushner added.

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said: “I could not be happier how this has gone,” adding that he was “highly confident we will soon have the first $4 billion. It’s going to be like a hot initial public offering.”

Most of the attendees at the event in Manama, Bahrain, gave Kushner’s economic proposals a serious hearing and agreed it was a useful exercise. Mohammed Al-Shaikh, Saudi minister of state, said: “Can it be done? Yes it can, because it was done before. In the mid-1990s to about the year 2000 there was a global coordinated effort by the US and other countries. I was at the World Bank at the time. I saw it. If we could do it then with significantly less money we can do it again.”

Others warned, however, that there was still a long way to go on the political aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian relationship. Tony Blair, the former British prime minister and Middle East peace envoy, said a political deal was essential.

“This is an economic plan that, if it is implemented, is going to do enormous good for the Palestinian people. But it isn’t a substitute for the politics. There will be no economic peace. There will be a peace that will be a political component and an economic component. The economy can help the politics and the politics is necessary for the economy to flourish.

“The politics has got to be right in this sense as well. The obvious sense people talk about is how do you negotiate the contours of the boundaries of a Palestinian state in a two state solution,” Blair said.

Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, highlighted the work the fund has done in conflict situations. “We had an exceptional result in Rwanda, and a good economic outcome in Mozambique,” she said. But she contrasted this with disappointing results in other African conflicts.

Lagarde said that the aim of the economic plan should be to create jobs. “The focus should be on job-intensive industries, like agriculture, tourism and infrastructure.”

Willem Buiter, special economic adviser to US banking giant Citi, said there were obstacles to the Kushner plan succeeding. “Necessary conditions for any progress are peace, safety and security. And there must be high-quality governance and the rule of law in Palestine,” he said.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Jared Kushner believes the conflict is a ‘solvable problem economically.’

• The senior adviser vows to lay out political plans at the right time.

• Expert urges external funding in the form of grants or equity, rather than loans.

He also suggested external funding should be in the form of grants or equity, rather than loans. “We should not burden a country trying to escape from its past with high debts,” he added.

Some attendees warned of the risks to investor funds in the current political situation in the Middle East. 

But Khalid Al-Rumaihi, chief executive of the Bahrain Economic Development Board, said: “Risk is not new to the region. We’ve tackled it for the past 30 to 40 years, but that has not stopped investment flowing in.

“Investors trade risk for return, and the Middle East has learned to cope with risk and conflict. There are pockets where the risk is high and Palestine is one of them. But I remain positive. The return in the region is higher to compensate for the risk,” he added.

At a session of regional finance ministers, Mohammed Al-Jadaan of Saudi Arabia said: “The region is in desperate need of prosperity and hope. There is a way forward, but you need political commitment.”

UAE Finance Minister Obaid Al-Tayer added: “We are decoupling politics from economics. If it’s the only initiative on the table we should all give it a chance.”