Abdullatif Al Shamsi, President & CEO, Higher Colleges of Technology

On adapting to the impact of technological change and lifelong learning

In what ways does the education sector need to evolve to adapt to the requirements of the future labour market?

ABDULLATIF AL SHAMSI: Education is extremely critical for the job market, as ensuring we develop the right human capital is crucial for the economy. The world is changing rapidly, in large part due to the acceleration of technological development, and there is an urgent need to change the way we think about education. However, we are confident that we have the right capabilities and resources to achieve this.

Skills are increasingly considered more important than degrees, which has put traditional education institutions at risk and forced universities to adapt. The answer to this, therefore, is to embed skills into the curriculum, thereby proving that graduates have the knowledge required for employment. University degrees can no longer be simply be academic, they have to show that graduates are ready for the demands and expectations of a digitalised professional environment. 

How can these specific skills be embedded into the education system?

AL SHAMSI: Studies have shown that 80-85% of any job is skills based, so developing a person’s skill set so they can thrive in the work environment is essential. How you adapt to new technology, manage and critically evaluate situations, and think outside of the box are all things that the job market now expects new employees to have learnt as part of their education. This process has to be started early on, right from primary school onwards, and it will also have to continue beyond graduation. Students will be taught to continue learning after having graduated so as to keep up with the rapid pace of developing technology.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution and its impact on the job market have increasingly been spoken about in the past few years. Terms such as Education 4.0 and Research 4.0 have become common usage, and the latest example is Persona 4.0, which has the potential to make us rethink the role of education in preparing students for employment. Persona 4.0 is a key means of adapting students to the new professional environment. It is versatile, in that it can be used to teach students of all subjects, because the skills it focuses on are crucial to all sectors, and it is also important because it stays relevant once students have graduated.

What impact is expected from the Persona 4.0 strategy and how will it help students?

AL SHAMSI: Persona 4.0 teaches students the skills and mindsets necessary to continue learning after graduation in order to keep up with the rapid pace of developing technology. It is a different way of learning – one which can be difficult for people to accept. It is clear, however, that traditional education has to adapt to stay relevant in a new, digital world, and Persona 4.0 is an important means of allowing universities to transition to this new reality. 

This strategy can be divided into three parts. The first part is the digital persona. Graduates today must above all else be comfortable with technology; this goes beyond mere computer literacy as graduates will be expected to be comfortable with the rapid pace of technological change and ready to adapt to new situations. This requires universities to be equipped with the latest tools and technology. The disruption caused by technology to the world of business compels universities to adapt how and what they teach students. It also brings huge benefits to students through, for example, distance, online and blended learning.

The second part is the professional persona. Students have to be prepared for the specific professional environment they hope to work in. This is not all related to technology – one means of preparing students is to qualify them through professional certification programmes offered by independent international bodies. This is what the hybrid education model is all about. These professional certificates provide our graduates with the job skills necessary to be recognized by employers – especially in the private sector. Solid connections between companies and students need to be forged for the substantial opportunities in the private sector to be fully exploited by graduating students.
 
The third part of the strategy is the entrepreneurial persona. One key challenge today is preparing students for jobs that do not yet exist, and students therefore have to learn to adapt to new situations and develop an entrepreneurial mindset. Abu Dhabi needs more small and medium-sized enterprises that have creative ideas to serve new business models in every sector. Indeed, the emirate has the young population, leadership and economic infrastructure required to develop companies into global businesses. If it can then combine these fundamentals with entrepreneurially minded graduates, it will be well positioned to become an exporter of entrepreneurs to the broader region.
 

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