UAE lacks home-grown engineering talent, experts say

Emirati engineers are in short supply despite the construction boom, says consultancy BuroHappold

PHOTO: Dubai's construction market is booming - but there are few Emirati engineers in the workplace. Credit: Shutterstock

The UAE is faced with a severe shortage of Emirati engineers despite the booming construction market in key cities like Dubai, experts say.

Andrea Scotti, Abu Dhabi director for engineering consultancy firm BuroHappold, says there is a pronounced lack of UAE national engineers in the market.

“I don’t think we ever came across a local structural engineer in the past few years,” says Scotti, who has extensive experience in the discipline.

“As the country develops, there will be more,” he notes. “At the end of the day, the UAE is not a gigantic country. It’s a very rich country but in terms of population it’s not huge. I would say the balance is quite right at the moment.”

Others have also noted that the country and region in general seems to suffer from a skills shortage as far as engineers are concerned, particularly in the construction sector.

Dr Alaa Ashmawy, dean and professor of civil engineering at the American University in Dubai, echoes Scotti’s comments on a local skills shortage and calls upon private companies to address the lack of talent, instead of simply recruiting workers from overseas.

“If companies can partner with universities to make sure that we have programs that serve the construction sector and for the construction sector to feed talent into the university, we’re going to break that barrier,” Ashmawy says.

“The challenge right now is that a lot of the construction companies, they would recruit talent from overseas. They don’t want to spend time educating engineers on their workforce. They’d rather import them,” he adds.

Scotti says BuroHappold is looking to tap into local talent by systematically hiring one or two graduates every year.

“We’re consistently looking at local universities for local talent,” he says. “At the moment I believe we have at least three engineers in our Dubai office that come from American University of Sharjah. And I must say the level is very good, both theoretical and practical.”

Ashmawy notes that things are improving as firms take note, pointing out that locally trained engineers are best equipped to solve problems specific to the region.

“A lot of companies now are more aware of the need to invest in local talent, the need to train the local workforce, because the problems are different. You can get the best engineers from Canada and Australia and Russia but they will not be able to solve the problems that are pervasive in the region here.” Ashmawy tells Big Project ME.

A full profile of Andrea Scotti will be published in the March issue of Big Project ME.

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