UAE, regional students confident about competing in global jobs market, study finds

  • In collaboration with Dubai International Academic City, KPMG and Mercer Talent Enterprise conduct unique research effort What About Youth?
  • Gulf nationals represent 60 per cent of sample, with Emiratis accounting for more than half of this figure
  • Increase in regional initiatives needed to encourage STEM, entrepreneurship degrees among youth
  • Approximately 11,000 students including 874 from Dubai International Academic City universities contribute to major research project

Dubai, UAE, 2 November 2020 – Students in the UAE and wider region are confident that the skills they learn at university will help them compete in the global jobs market. However, a similar percentage want more career guidance, according to a new study conducted by KPMG and Mercer Talent Enterprise in collaboration with Dubai International Academic City.

Three-quarters of students (72 per cent) believe their education and personal attributes will enable them to get a job anywhere in the world. To enhance their competitiveness, it is recommended that universities increase the provision of career guidance, with 72 per cent of participants seeking more professional support.

Although more than 20 per cent of participants said that would like to pursue a career in STEM, regional universities are encouraged establish initiatives to promote STEM and entrepreneurship-focused careers to keep up with regional government priorities to develop a highly-skilled workforce for a more diversified economy.

The research titled ‘What About Youth?’ also recommends employers and universities to hold joint discussions to identify innovative ways to tap into the enthusiasm and hope of youth.

The unique research project was conducted over several phases covering 24 months up to Q1 2020. The first phase drew the participation of more than 10,000 students, representing a population of more than 128,000 from across the region. The second phase included 874 students from the UAE, representing over 25,000 students from universities in Dubai International Academic City, the world’s largest higher education ecosystem.

The study represents the views of more than 153,000 students from countries such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia, with Emiratis accounting for more than half of all regional nationals surveyed.

Nearly eight in 10 young people are excited about what the future holds, with 88 per cent believing the best is yet to come. However, as the research was concluded in March 2020, a follow-up study is under way to gauge how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected youth sentiment.

The key findings of the research can be broadly grouped into primary themes: youth are more confident about the future; universities must be agile in the future; young people believe in themselves; student demand for career counselling is growing; women are more likely to wait for their dream job; and more work is needed to encourage and incentivise careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) as the UAE eyes more missions to space in the coming years.

Commenting on the findings, Mohammad Abdullah, Managing Director of Dubai International Academic City, said: “Helping educators and employers meet the expectations of young people is intrinsically linked to the vision of our leaders for a robust, resilient and sustainable higher education sector. And that is why we initiated this research with KPMG and the Talent Enterprise: to provide actionable data on youth sentiment and fuel Dubai’s knowledge and innovation-based economy.”

“Understanding what matters to young people today has never been so important, with major developments impacting the type of skills or talent required for future jobs. The UAE is a desirable destination for youth, and universities need to expand the range of STEM and entrepreneurship-focused courses as demand for highly skilled talent rises.”

Marketa Simkova, Partner and Head of People and Change Middle East at KPMG, added: “Attracting the best and brightest talent, and retaining it, remains a significant challenge for organizations and CHROs in a time of occupational shortages. This study provides valuable insights to employers about the new generation entering the workforce; their aspirations, ideals and motivations. Employers can better understand how to leverage non-compensation linked value enablers, such as organizational culture and leadership, to attract the workforce of the future. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, youth nurture optimism about the future. At KPMG, we recommend that employers focus on building compelling value propositions for the new generation of work that is in line with their aspirations and motivations.”

She added: “The research suggests that students demand more career guidance, and employers can certainly play a role here. By participating in university mentorship programs and shaping entry-level graduate programs that provide adequate career direction and baseline skills to youth, employers can not only tap into available talent pools early on but also encourage careers in STEM, analytics and research that are key to nation building, thereby serving their social responsibility to the UAE.”

For her part, Radhika Punshi, Managing Director from Mercer Talent Enterprise, said: “The current COVID-19 pandemic is necessitating most industries and organizations to significantly reinvent themselves, and the education sector is no exception. Educational institutions across the world, including the UAE, will need to find new ways of attracting, engaging and retaining students. Universities will need provide a compelling experience to students with the fast adoption of digital, immersive and blended learning platforms, along with ensuring that students do not miss out on the quality of interactions and social connections that they would in a typical classroom environment. This is possibly the most exciting yet most challenging time for educators to reform and reinvent.”  

She added: “From a students’ perspective, our research shows that while students demonstrate a sense of achievement, grit, ambition, optimism and a growth mindset, they may need additional support in navigating the change and complexity we face today. Their ability to deal with ambiguity and to recover from setbacks, often known as resilience, as well as their sense of confidence, need to be nurtured and embedded into the education experience.” 

STEM, entrepreneurship popular career pathways

With the UAE set for more space missions, STEM-related careers across science, engineering, technology, robotics and artificial intelligence are popular pathways, with 21 per cent interested in these fields. It is recommended that educators and employers establish programs and initiatives to encourage careers in these fields to meet the UAE’s vision for a knowledge-based economy empowered by highly skilled talent.

Moreover, students are increasingly passion-driven with entrepreneurship a popular choice for one in 10 youths. Passion and drive to achieve success were found to be the motivating factors for youth to work after completion of their studies.

Youth are confident about the future

Nearly eight in 10 surveyed young people are excited about what the future holds, with 88 per cent of them believing the best is yet to come. With youth in a jubilant mood, it is recommended that universities and employees hold discussions to identify innovative ways to tap into this enthusiasm and hope.

Youth are hopeful, however there is a gap between employers’ and educators’ preferred curriculum

Nearly three-quarters (72 per cent) of students are confident that their soft and hard skills will help them compete globally for employment – however, only 56 per cent have a clear plan of what they are going to do when they graduate Interestingly, UAE national youth have higher levels of optimism and positivity, as well as a greater sense of ambition and achievement than youth from other nationalities. It is recommended that universities add more digital literacy courses and focus on building resilience amongst students, especially in light of the challenges caused by COVID-19.

Students demand more career guidance from educators

An overwhelming majority (72 per cent) of students would like to receive better advice on the jobs market from career guidance counsellors, professors, faculty, alumni or mentors.  Universities that provide better career guidance may be more likely to stay ahead, and it is recommended that they generate more forums to enhance the awareness of parents in career counselling.

Women are more likely to wait for their dream job

Women are more passion-driven towards their work and 85 per cent of them believe that their opinions matter. They’re also more willing to wait for their desired job than men, with many keen to pursue careers in human resources, education, social and life sciences. However, more may be done to empower young women. Incentivising women to participate in business cases and entrepreneurship initiatives is one recommendation.

Universities must be agile

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has caused parents and students to question the value of traditional education, according to a separate global study. With this in mind, KPMG, Dubai International Academic City and Mercer Talent Enterprise recommend establishing a professional development link between employers and students with agile learning methodologies to seek new ways to attract and retain talent.

Following the launch of the key findings, Dubai International Academic City, KPMG and Mercer Talent Enterprise will jointly-host a series of workshops to explore the research in greater detail. These will feature leading public and private sector experts to delve into the issues that matter most to the youth of today.

About Dubai International Academic City

Dubai International Academic City (DIAC) is the world’s largest ecosystem dedicated to higher education. Established in 2007, as part of TECOM Group, DIAC aims to develop the region’s talent pool and help establish the UAE as a knowledge-based economy through the provision of multi-tiered academic institutions that are internationally accredited.
DIAC is located on a fully-appointed 18 million sq ft campus with state-of-the-art facilities. It is home to 27 universities from 9 countries, including Amity University Dubai Campus, Heriot-Watt University Dubai Campus, University of Wollongong Dubai, BITS Pilani Dubai Campus, Hult International Business School, Murdoch University Dubai, and The University of Manchester Middle East Center to name a few.

DIAC provides more than 500 certificate, diploma, undergraduate, post-graduate and PHD programs to over 27,000 students of 150 nationalities and continues to grow as per the needs of its robust and talented academic community.

About KPMG

For almost 50 years, KPMG Lower Gulf Limited has been providing audit, tax and advisory services to a broad range of domestic and international, public and private sector clients across all major aspects of business and the economy in the United Arab Emirates and in the Sultanate of Oman. We work alongside our clients by building trust, mitigating risks and identifying business opportunities.

KPMG Lower Gulf is part of KPMG International Cooperative’s global network of professional member firms. Now entering its 150th year, the KPMG network includes approximately 219,000 professionals in over 147 countries. KPMG in the UAE and Oman is well connected with its global member network and combines its local knowledge with international expertise, providing the sector and specialist skills required by our clients.

KPMG is widely represented in the Middle East: along with offices in the UAE and Oman, the firm is well established in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Egypt, Jordan and the Lebanon. Established in 1973, KPMG in the UAE and Oman employs 1,485 people across four offices, including about 100 partners and directors.

As we continue to grow, we aim to evolve and progress in order to ensure the highest levels of public trust in our work. Our values are:

  • Integrity: We do what is right.
  • Excellence: We never stop learning and improving.
  • Courage: We think and act boldly.
  • Together: We respect each other and draw strength from our differences.
  • For Better: We do what matters.

To meet the changing needs of our clients, we have adopted an approach aligned with our global purpose: Inspiring Confidence, Empowering Change. Our three pillars – exceptional quality of service, an unwavering commitment to the public interest, and building empowered teams – are the foundation of our firm.

Mercer Talent Enterprise

Mercer Talent Enterprise is the regions leading human capital ‘think’ and ‘do’ tank, advancing the application of behavioral science, to our clients most pressing people priorities, with a focus on youth and gender inclusion. Mercer Talent Enterprise provides talent insights through technology enabled assessment and capability solutions, partnering with policy-makers, employers and educators on aspects such as career guidance, employability and life skills, talent assessment, succession planning and leadership development. Mercer Talent Enterprise’s flagship technology platform, Lighthouse, provides contemporary psychometric assessments, flexible 360 and multi-rater surveys, neuroscience based gamified cognitive assessments, immersive virtual assessment centres and AI driven video interviewing technology for students, employees, leaders and teams. As an inter-disciplinary team with expertise in psychology, behavioral economics, education, and technology, we are the first and only company in the world to pioneer the science of behaviormetrics®.   

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