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From being hunters and gatherers until the present age of rapid digitalization, humans have been the inexhaustible catalysts of this evolution.

And the story continues to open up newer chapters whereby the human factor has to play the leading role no matter what follows next. Indeed, the ongoing digital transformation has brought both benefits and anxiety to modern society. On the one hand, innovations such as digital health and digital payments have revolutionized the model of instantaneous service delivery, on the other, the menace of cyber-attacks, online fraud and misinformation has become the stumbling blocks of this progression.

Technological advancements in 5G, cloud computing and artificial intelligence are transforming businesses like never before, accelerating productivity, saving costs and enhancing customer experiences. At the same time, the evolution to IoT and edge computing means the mobile ecosystem and networks are becoming ever more complex. We are at a point where our networks simply must deliver value beyond just connectivity. However, the pace of new technologies entering the market is exceeding the workforce that can manage them.

Also read: Building Diverse Global Talents: AWS re/Start MENA Completes First Year

ICT Skills Gap

ICT skills are the biggest challenge facing the tech sector with 61% of global IT decision-makers agreeing in a recent survey. The main gaps in tech skills were found to be in the specialties of IT technicians (27%), cloud computing (26%), and AI/machine learning (26%).

Two-thirds of the global population or 5.3 billion people are online today and the remaining 2.7 billion are still unconnected. To unlock the benefits of the technological surge, the development of digital skills in all economic spheres is indispensable both in terms of boosting connectivity and connecting the unconnected. Thus, training and capacity building must be a priority to ensure that citizens as well as ICT professionals possess the right skills and qualifications to make effective use of today’s digital tools.

To that end, ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau has taken up the mandate to fulfill the digital skills gap through the newly launched ITU Academy Training Centres (ATC) program as an extension of the former ITU Centres of Excellence (CoEs) program.

Selected partner organizations provide advanced high-quality telecommunication/ICT training and strengthen institutional capacity in countries and regions around the globe. The ATC program is aimed at expanding the students’ knowledge, developing skills, and harnessing the benefits of digital technologies. The ITU Academy offers over 150 training courses to thousands of ICT professionals every year, nearly 70% of whom are from developing countries.

Promoting digital skills development and digital training programs is key to ensuring inclusive and secure telecommunications/ICTs for sustainable development – one of the core priorities for the ITU Development Sector.

Similarly, in the UAE, both telecom operators du and e& collaborate with the vendors – Huawei, Nokia and Ericsson, among others to push the ICT development further. 

du recently announced a new collaboration with Nokia to strengthen employee skill sets and accelerate talent development initiatives in the UAE. As part of the partnership, Nokia conducts training and development programs for du workers that focus on technology competency and knowledge transfer to help them effectively respond to the increasingly complex challenges facing the digital, technology and telecommunications industries.  e& formerly Etisalat has been collaborating with Huawei Academy since 2010 as an ICT training hub for the Gulf and Middle East region.  Huawei runs the annual Seeds for the Future program where global participants develop innovations and compete for prizes in technological projects.  Huawei also holds the Tech4Good global competition that encourages young talents to explore digital technologies to address social issues.


ICT specialists have become one of the most in-demand workers in the labor force. Moreover, the ICT skillset is increasingly in demand in various sectors other than ICT alone, making it a highly mobile workforce. For instance, the MENA market represents a growing gaming consumer base and a fast-developing industry whereby ICT interoperability is of supreme importance. Furthermore, in comparison, ICT specialists’ educational attainment and wages are higher than average national standards. As the ICT services subsector grows, the demand for skilled workers will be more. And importantly, the ICT sector is a vital contributor to the national economy of any country and a well-equipped workforce is the prerequisite for exploring the opportunities in the growing ICT field.

Also read: Dubai Readies Taskforce for AI to Transform Government Operations


Emerging technologies and the new occupations related to them could significantly change skills requirements, according to industry studies. This will require investment in effective lifelong learning systems and continuous training in the field of ICT for many organizations.

As a result of ICT skills shortages, big companies with deep pockets can hire highly skilled employees offering high salaries but this trend creates an imbalance in the talent pool with the danger of such companies absorbing all the talent.

Despite increased participation from women in recent years, ICT remains a male-dominated field. In almost every country, regardless of income level or development stage, women are under-represented in the ICT based on data available for 116 countries.

Scaling up investments in ICT education and training is of utmost importance; however, managing the return on investment (ROI) for such projects can become complex and tedious for organizations.

Also read: Huawei: Stimulating Innovation and Growth in the Digital Economy

Some Key Considerations

To address the issue of ICT workforce development, experts suggest a holistic approach that combines technical, governmental and soft-skills enhancement initiatives, including:

  • Investing in a skill forecasting anticipation system to better understand the current and future needs
  • Increase investment in post-secondary education institutions and teaching staff
  • Encourage more women to study STEM subjects and increase their participation in ICT occupations
  • Addressing skills gaps between skills acquired at universities or vocational institutions and skills demanded by industry
  • Focusing on training and education on soft skills  and promoting interdisciplinary approaches to skills development
  • Facilitating better recognition of foreign formal qualifications and work experience as well as visa processing

The latest market research projects the global digital transformation market size to reach $6.78 trillion in 2029, at a CAGR of 20.9% during the forecast period, 2022-2029. Moreover, the investment in digital transformation in the Middle East, Turkey and Africa is set to top $74 billion in 2021–2026 period, with an annual growth rate of 16%, according to global consulting firm IDC.

The ICT ecosystem must focus on addressing current and emerging workforce needs by delivering industry-driven activities, including training and reskilling workers, helping employers attract and retain talent, and promoting DEI (diversity, equity, inclusion) in the workforce.

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