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.


Oman ‘still needs expats,’ ministry says

Updated 41 min 42 sec ago
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Oman ‘still needs expats,’ ministry says

  • The ministry said expat workers are needed because the country is working on “mega infrastructure projects”
  • Expats make up almost 90 percent of Oman’s private sector workforce, which the government has been trying to reduce

DUBAI: Driving down the number of expat workers in Oman’s private sector is “going to take a long time,” a senior official at the Ministry of Manpower said, highlighting infrastructure projects as areas where expat workers are needed.
Despite ongoing efforts to integrate more Omanis in the workforce, the ministry said the country still needs expat workers for “mega infrastructure projects.”
Expats make up almost 90 percent of Oman’s private sector workforce, which the government has been trying to reduce through its Omanization policies.
“Some professions in the private sector are Omanized and restricted to Omanis, such as administrative professions and some senior leadership positions, such as personnel managers and human resource managers. The Ministry of Manpower also issued a decision to ban the recruitment of a non-Omani labor force in some professions, as well introduced a hike in work permit fees for the expatriate labor force,” Salim bin Nasser Al Harami, Director General of Planning and Development at the Ministry of Manpower, told local daily Times of Oman.
The expatriate visa ban halted the hiring of expats to jobs across 87 sectors which include information systems, accounting and finance, sales and marketing, administration, human resources and insurance.
These efforts resulted in a two percent decline in October, which Al Hadrami said was a “a good and positive indicator.”
The National Center for Statistics & Information in Oman reported that of the 2,041,190 workers in the private sector, only 250,717 are Omanis, with the vast majority – 87.72 percent – being expatriates.
The Omanization drive aims to recruit more of local citizens in private companies — a similar push across the GCC where countries like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait who have also been trying to increase the number of nationals in private sector employment.