Muscat – The engineering sector must work closer with academia if Oman has to inspire and enable the next generation to become world-class innovators, a fundamental component of Oman Vision 2040, a new report has revealed.
The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), a 152-year-old global organisation with 154,000 members in 148 countries, has released findings from its Oman Skills Survey that lays bare the skills gap currently facing the Omani engineering industry, as well as the skills prospects for the next decade that will be vital in maximising the country’s engineering potential and diversifying the economy.
Having conducted skills surveys for the past 18 years, IET joined forces with market researchers YouGov and interviewed individuals in Oman with management responsibilities in companies that employ engineers.
The findings cast a positive light on the expansion of industry, with two thirds (66 per cent) reporting an increase in staff numbers over the past year. However, in the last 12 months almost all (97 per cent or nine out of ten) struggled to recruit with problems centred on applicants’ lack of skills, experience or qualifications.
But skills aren’t the only barrier, with over a third (37 per cent) of respondents reporting a lack of diversity within their workforce as a current challenge – something they still expect to be prevalent in the next three years (32 per cent).
Over the next two decades, the sultanate has put education and learning as key priorities of Oman Vision 2040, with targets to move Omani universities up the global rankings index (into the top 300) and to move into the top 20 countries in the Global Talent Competitiveness Index. A large share of organisations that employ university graduates believe they have the skills to address the challenges their organisation faces (88 per cent).
However, there are still barriers to encourage young Omanis into choosing engineering as a career with half thinking young people lack knowledge about different career options within engineering (49 per cent) and the absence of available job opportunities (47 per cent).
Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning are considered an important area of skills growth over the next five years, although a third of firms (33 per cent) don’t have or don’t know if they have the right skills in this area.
Sir Julian Young, IET’s immediate past president, said, “Oman has clear long-term ambitions that support an economic diversification away from oil dependence. With priorities including modernising the education system and building capabilities at a local level, it is clear from our research that there needs to be a re-focus on upskilling, including better collaboration between higher education institutions and industry to provide real-world applications to learning and ensure engineering education is aligned to current and future industry needs.”
He noted that for Oman to continue building home-grown engineering talent to meet its future requirements, industry and the government will need to work with schools to ensure children from a young age experience more hands-on practical learning of STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects to encourage creativity, imagination and problem solving. “This should be a continual dialogue and can be supported by collaborative projects and student work experience schemes as young people progress through the education system.”
The survey also uncovered the rise in prominence of IT and communications as the most important industry in Oman over the next three years (55 per cent) and longer term (51 per cent).
This has helped identified a clear training priority over the next five years, although most employers are confident, they can address the skills gap as their businesses diversify into new areas. There is a high degree of certainty that organisations, which identified a need, will be able to access the training required (94 per cent), with the majority looking to professional training bodies (60 per cent).
The research shows that the top ways for Omani engineers to increase their credibility are by completing additional qualifications (43 per cent of those surveyed agreed) and by completing an accredited apprenticeship programme (41 per cent). Registration with a national body (36 per cent) and membership of an international professional body (34 per cent) help too.