When it comes to news on economic trends and policies in the UAE, government and business leaders turn to the Abu Dhabi Council for Economic Development’s Economic Review. Tahseen Consulting is honored to have its work on developing a knowledge economy in the UAE highlighted in the publication’s November issue. We have posted the full article below.
Tahseen Consulting’s Chief Operating Officer, Wes Schwalje, spoke with representatives from the Abu Dhabi Council for Economic Development regarding his thoughts on how Abu Dhabi can build a knowledge economy. In a wide-ranging discussion, Schwalje discusses the link between the UAE’s knowledge-based economic development strategy and high skill, high wage job creation.
Abu Dhabi Council for Economic Development: How Can Abu Dhabi Build a Knowledge Economy?
Schwalje: The development goal of transitioning to knowledge-based economies emerged in many countries in the Arab World in the late Nineties due to the commonality of several factors related to culture, the economic environment, and socio-political developments. Across the region, knowledge-based economic development has become closely intertwined with national competitiveness and economic policies that support innovation, technology development, entrepreneurship, workforce skills development, adoption of high performance organizational structures, and information and communications technology infrastructure development. It has also become associated with environmental sustainability, identity, language, gender equality, and political participation and democratic reform in some countries. Five common economic development justifications, job creation, economic integration, economic diversification, environmental sustainability, and social development, are often cited as the underlying rational for pursuing knowledge-based economic development strategies. Research conducted by Tahseen Consulting shows that seventeen of the twenty-two countries in the Arab World have the development of a knowledge-based economy specifically stated as a medium to long-term development policy objective.
Abu Dhabi Council for Economic Development: How Can Knowledge-based Economic Development Strategies Lead to High Skill, High Wage Job Creation?
Schwalje: The causal relationship between knowledge-based economic development and ensuing job creation which will create the need for increased supplies of high skill workers has been particularly appealing to GCC policymakers. For Arab governments, the heavy reliance of the concept of knowledge-based economy on human capital development provides a useful means to achieve a number of attributed social and economic objectives, such as higher levels of educational attainment ; increased health; efficiency of consumer choices; higher levels of savings and charitable giving; social cohesion; increased self-reliance and economic independence; reduced crime; growth and competitiveness; increased productivity; domestic innovation.
However, with the emergence of low wage, high skills workers in developing countries, knowledge is becoming commoditized. With increasing cost competition in knowledge-based industries from emerging countries, the less resource wealthy Arab countries could feasibly follow a development trajectory grounded in selective participation in knowledge-based and manufacturing industries in which they have a cost advantage and have or can develop quickly sufficient workforce skills to compete against emerging country rivals. The Gulf countries, which employ many of their citizens in high wage roles in parastatals operating in knowledge-based industries and government institutions, may be particularly threatened by competition from low wage knowledge workers and be subject to significant margin compression which challenges the economics of their entry into knowledge-based industries.
Abu Dhabi Council for Economic Development: In Which Strategic Subsectors can Abu Dhabi be Globally Competitive in the Face of the Emergence of Low Wage, High Skill Knowledge Workers?
Schwalje: The Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030 outlines several economic sectors for growth and diversification.
- Energy – Oil & Gas
- Aviation, Aerospace, and Defense
- Pharmaceuticals, Biotechnology, & Life Sciences
- Healthcare Equipment & Services
- Transportation, Trade, & Logistics
- Financial Services
- Telecommunication Services
An extremely important next step in moving towards a knowledge based economy will be closely scrutinizing the industries identified in the Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030 for particular industry subsectors that are economically viable given the emergence of low wage, high skill knowledge workers in emerging economies, have the potential to offer wages that are attractive relative to reservation wages established by the public sector, present the possibility of developing a sustainable cost advantage, and which national workforce skills can be developed to provide the human capital required to grow the industry.
For example, research on the emerging renewable energy industry in the UAE found that the majority of firms which operate in the industry are concentrated in lower value added, downstream activities like installation, maintenance, and trading. Very few firms currently operate in higher value added, knowledge intensive industry segments like manufacturing, consulting, and finance. While such industries are in an emergent stage, it is unclear, if they remain concentrated in lower value added segments, whether their impact on economic development will be as significant as planned.
Abu Dhabi Council for Economic Development: What are Some of the Challenges Faced by Countries in Developing Knowledge Economies?
A historical example from the Arab World of the perils of inadequate skills development paralleling foreign and domestic investment is Muhammad Ali’s attempt to industrialize Egypt through the establishment of a textile industry in the 1800s. In 1819, Muhammad Ali began an industrialization drive using imported foreign technicians and investment which led to the establishment of 30 modern factories for textile manufacturing. By 1830, these factories employed 30,000 but within a decade all the factories had failed due to lack of technical skills, European competition, and increased production quality in Europe. At the time, French and English technical superiority and lower labor and raw material costs allowed the Europeans to displace Egyptian imports to Europe. Egypt also faced skills shortages related to engineers and mechanics who could operate, repair, or make innovative improvements to imported technologies which led to obsolescence of Egyptian textile equipment. English free trade concessions further led to industry decline, and by the 1840s Egypt was relegated to a supplier of raw materials to the European textile industry and a net importer of finished textile products from Europe. Despite significant investment in the sector, 87% of cotton in Egypt continued to be processed with manual, time consuming, inefficient methods until 1860 when state of the art steam technologies were introduced due to favorable competitive opportunities for Egyptian cotton resulting from decreased global supply from the US during the American Civil War.
One of the key challenges we have identified in our work with Arab countries pursuing knowledge-based development strategies in the region is the lack of effectiveness of skills formation systems. Our research shows that lack of effectiveness of Arab skills formation systems influences Arab firms to contest lower-skilled, non-knowledge intensive industries at the detriment to regional competitiveness and knowledge-based economic development. Adaptability and congruence of skills formation systems and constituent actors in response to factors such as economic development, skill demands of employers, technological progress and industrial strengthening, and macroeconomic trends is critical to knowledge-based development in the Arab World. Thus, the movement of many Arab countries towards knowledge- based economic development inevitably requires the transition to more effective skills formation systems.
Our research on the region has shown four primary requirements to develop skills formation systems for knowledge economy:
Governments must link economic development with education and training
- Coordination: Ensuring effective institutions to prevent market failure, underinvestment in skills, provide adequate regulation, and coordinate stakeholders
- Aligning macroeconomic policy with skills formation: Educational and industrial policy interventions must be set in place so that education and training systems co-evolve with industry development.
- Broad-based, inclusive skills formation: National skills formation systems must support the workforce presently employed in or entering the formal sector as well as individuals who are self-employed, working in informal sectors, or unemployed.
Education and training systems must produce human capital in the quantity and quality required by the labor market
- Ensuring relevancy and employability: Governance, policy, and coordination mechanisms that link educational systems to specific labor market outcomes avoid supply-demand informational gaps regarding skills trends and ensure skill alignment with the needs of employers
- Quality Assurance: Adoption of performance-oriented, rather than expansion focused, approaches to improving quality, increasing performance, and assuring student marketability
- Expanding Access: Programs to develop skills amongst those disadvantaged by inadequate investment
Employers need to take a longer term approach to skills formation for knowledge-based development
- Workforce Investment: Employers must be committed to continuous, regular on the job training and knowledge transfer in response to high-performance workplace organization and skills relevancy but also remediating inadequate pre-employment general skills
- Workforce Development: Cooperation of education and training institutions, the business community, and governments to provide individuals with gainful, rewarding employment as well as firms obtaining the skills in the quantity and quality required
Individuals must be able to make informed choices about their investments in particular skills sets and continuously upgrade their skills
- Investment optimization: Individuals must seek out information on the future trajectory of industries and emergent skills needs, the returns to investing in particular skills sets, returns of education and training investments when calibrating their education and training decisions
- Lifelong-learning: Individuals must be committed to continuous learning throughout all stages of life for the purposes of community engagement, the workplace, development, and well-being