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Middle East firms must focus on IT training and employing more women to stay competitive

Organisations in the Middle East face IT recruitment challenges unless they offer more training and employ more women

A Computer Weekly survey has found that companies in the Middle East could fall behind their peers in other regions if they don’t increase investment in IT training and recruit more women.

The Computer Weekly Salary Survey 2017 found that Middle East companies also face challenges in retaining IT staff, who are in high demand.

The survey of 650 IT professionals in the region highlighted a lack of employer-provided training as a problem for staff. More than 63% of respondents said they did not think they received enough training from their employer and almost three-quarters (73%) said a lack of training was hindering their career progress.

Gareth El Mettouri, associate director of recruitment company Robert Half UAE, said local IT companies that want to remain competitive must focus on their training and recruitment strategies.

“Technology has become a fundamental part of doing business, so every business needs to ensure it has the right expertise and resources at hand in order to not only keep the lights on, but also to maintain a competitive advantage,” he said.

“As new software and platforms are rolled out and infrastructure upgrade plans are designed, it is important to ensure that IT employees who will be supporting the business with these projects have the expertise, knowledge and, sometimes more importantly, the willingness to learn and adapt, to ensure their success.”

The UAE is currently suffering an IT skills shortage, a trend that is mirrored globally. According to the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the UAE’s technology market is growing quickly, which is placing further demand on an already limited supply of professionals.

El Mettouri said demand is growing for roles such as program managers, business analysts and app support developers.

Read more about IT skills in the Middle East

Mechelle Buys Du Plessis, managing director for the Middle East at Dimension Data, said the region was lagging in its adoption of the latest technology because of a lack of trained resources and skills. “This puts a tremendous strain on the management of skilled technical resources,” she said. “They have to ensure they put the right programmes in place to train and re-skill their employees to keep up with these transformational technologies.”

The need for skills is particularly high in certain areas of technology, said Du Plessis. “The availability of skilled resources and talent in the networking and cyber security space has become a huge challenge in the IT industry, which is in a state of transformation,” she said.

“IT companies need to think of people as an asset. They need to assess the skills they currently have and how they can leverage those skills for customers as they compete in the digital age. To attract and retain the best people in the industry, learning and development remains key.

“Whether it is to create consulting capabilities to help clients transform datacentres into hybrid cloud models, or evolving employee and customer experiences through transformational technologies, they need to invest in continuous upskilling to keep pace with the rate of change in technology.”

Dimension Data itself has invested in education platforms to help its staff acquire knowledge. From on-the-job experience to cloud-based learning platforms, its employees are encouraged to complete courses in virtual classrooms or through app-based programmes on mobile devices, delivering content on platforms they are familiar and comfortable with.

Recruit more women

But IT training is not the only employment shortfall in the region. Middle East organisations are also missing out on the potential to recruit more women.

For example, in Gulf Cooperation Council countries, women make up only about 27% of the workforce, whereas the global average is just under 52%, according to the World Bank.

The Computer Weekly survey found low levels of women working in IT in the Middle East. Just under 30% of respondents said there were no women in their IT department, and 29% said less than 10% of their IT staff were women. Only 9% said more than 40% of their organisation’s IT staff were women.

Cherie Pardue, CIO for American Hospital Dubai, said that although there are some local women in IT leadership positions, generally there are more men in technology than in the healthcare sector.

The gender imbalance in the IT industry begins at school, said Pardue. “There are fewer women entering the Stem [science, technology, engineering and maths] education tracks in high schools, universities and colleges,” she said. “This is because women have preconceived ideas about the technology field.”

Pardue urged more local schools to encourage women to enter science and technology. “Companies should offer internships to women who are just out of school to educate them that IT is not just about technology – there are many other roles that support technology as well,” she said.

Aaron Han, chief of pathology at American Hospital Dubai, who is also on the board of various hospital IT projects, agreed that the pipeline for training in IT is long. “We need to expose young women to role models and stories of female achievement in technology that they can aspire to,” he said.

Han said IT companies should create concrete measurable organisational goals for increased female representation in the workforce and in leadership roles. “Women have much to contribute to the IT workforce,” he said. “Gender diversity is known to contribute to better organisational performance.”

Read more on Information technology (IT) in the Middle East