Dubai's skyline, featuring the Burj Al Arab, Burj Khalifa and Jumeirah Beach Hotel.

Country focus: the United Arab Emirates

We take a look at the opportunities for young engineers in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) - what skills employers are after and what kinds engineering projects are planned or currently underway.

Country snapshot

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) was established in 1971 and is a federation of the seven Middle Eastern states of Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ajman, Fujairah, Ras al Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm al Qaiwain. It has a population of around 9.3 million but more than seven million of these are expatriates from around the globe, many of whom have come to work in the region’s oil industry.

Oil was first discovered in Abu Dhabi, the UAE capital, in the 1950s and its oil reserves are reportedly the seventh biggest in the world. According to the Central Intelligence Agency, in 2013 the UAE had a gross domestic product (GDP) per capita of US$29,900.

What’s going on there?

The UAE’s past may have been about oil and gas but its future is about diversification. To reduce its dependency on the oil industry and generate sustainable jobs for local people, the UAE has invested in a range of different industries and sectors over the past 15 years.

All states have achieved some form of diversification from the smallest, Ajman, through to its most populous state, Dubai, which boasts the most high-profile success story in this department. It transformed itself to become the business and transport hub for the Middle East while land-reclamation projects such as the famous Palm Islands alongside iconic construction projects like Jumeirah Beach Hotel and Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building at 828 metres, have also made it one of the most cosmopolitan tourist centres in the world.

A major focus for the next five years is Dubai’s preparation to host the 2020 World Expo, which is expected to attract 25 million visitors with 70 per cent coming from overseas. To stage the event, it is building a 438-hectare site that includes a gated 150-hectare expo area and a surrounding residential hospitality and logistics zone. The expo will fast-track infrastructure developments including rail projects and logistics facilities. Sustainability is one of the expo’s sub-themes and it aims to produce 50 per cent of the expo’s operational energy requirements from renewable sources.

Meanwhile, the UAE capital of Abu Dhabi is certainly not going to be outdone by its neighbour with its master plan for the next 25 years and beyond. Improvements and investment in infrastructures will see more skyscrapers joining the skyline, expressways added and strategic links to business districts built. To ensure that developments in the city and the demand these bring are matched by a state-of-the-art air transport infrastructure, Abu Dhabi Airports has a multi-billion dollar expansion plan in place. This includes the spectacular new Midfield Terminal project due to be completed in 2017 at Abu Dhabi International Airport, which is already one of the world’s fastest growing airport hubs.

The Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030 cites energy, petrochemicals, metals, aviation, aerospace and defence, education, healthcare, pharmaceuticals and life sciences, transportation, trade and logistics, media and telecommunications services as among the “engines for economic growth”.

The report says that as part of the efforts to diversify, Abu Dhabi will seek to “foster non-oil GDP growth” at a higher rate than that of the oil sector and the aim is to reach an equilibrium in non-oil trade by 2028.

What skills are in demand and where?

When it comes to demand, the UAE ticks most of the boxes for engineering skills with Abu Dhabi and Dubai predictably seeing the main concentration of jobs. The range of infrastructure and construction projects that will be ongoing for the next decade and beyond mean that civil, mechanical and electrical engineers as well as those with specialist power distribution systems expertise will be required. Similarly, the focus on aviation and aerospace means specialist skills in these areas will be hotly in demand.

The UAE wants to enhance education and training to improve the employability of its people as well as build a competitive workforce. Ian Dalley, a fellow of the IET and a solicitor and professional engineer based in Abu Dhabi, reports that engineering is a popular subject for young people to pursue but even a major push in this area is unlikely to be enough to satisfy demand for skilled engineers over the coming years.

“It will continue to be a global marketplace for skills and mature engineers in particular are in demand as well as those with specific skill sets,” he says. “Many of the big projects are multinational endeavours and all of the major UK engineering consultancies have a presence in UAE and work on a wide variety of projects.”

Dalley adds that manufacturing has been identified as one of the areas that will help provide meaningful employment for local people.

“There has been huge investment in manufacturing and this includes investment in steel plants and petrochemical refineries which will also need engineers with highly specialised skills. And there will, of course, continue to be a demand for oil and gas engineers,” he adds.

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