Skills gap in life sciences & healthcare sectors hampering progress, says panel of experts

02 February 2014
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DuBiotech, the Biotechnology and Research Park dedicated to facilitating and fostering growth of the UAE’s life sciences, and Dubai International Academic City (DIAC) gathered academic and industry experts to discuss the findings of a recent report highlighting the lack of trained workers in the sector and its effect on the development of the UAE’s healthcare industry.

The discussion was moderated by Marwan Abdulaziz, Executive Director of DuBiotech and attended by Dr. Ayoub Kazim, Managing Director, TECOM Investments’ Education Cluster, Dr. Zeydan Abuissa, Country Manger & GEP Lead, Gulf and Levant, Pfizer Gulf FZ LLC, Omar Khan, CEO, Dayarn Pharmaceuticals and Consumer Health, Bilal Al Sabbash, Deloitte & Touche, Director – Healthcare Technologies and Dr. Tessa Dunseath, Executive Director, Michigan State University.

The findings of a Workforce Planning Study by DIAC in conjunction with Deloitte examining whether the UAE’s education programmes are serving the needs of the industry found an increase in demand for skills associated with Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education. The study of over 2,400 students across 17 MENA markets reported that healthcare spending is expected to double between 2010 and 2015 across the region as a result of the increasing incidence of chronic lifestyle diseases, an increase in government budget allocation and mandatory insurance usage. These factors have created an increased in demand for specialised skills, such as medical and laboratory technology, especially at entry and middle levels. Hospital management and clinical data management skills were identified as areas lacking in senior level employees.

The discussion, held in parallel to Arab Health, addressed the need to encourage more students into the life sciences sector to stimulate innovation and address the over reliance on imported medicine. The experts agreed that to truly develop a knowledge-based economy, greater collaboration between industry, academia and Government is required.

Marwan Abdulaziz, Executive Director of TECOM Investments’ Sciences Cluster, which includes DuBiotech and Enpark, said: “Analysis of the region’s health sector shows we can expect rapid growth in the coming years. The experts we assembled discussed the challenges, such as a shortage of qualified staff and skilled labour needed to ensure we achieve the potential.

“The main objective behind this workshop was to facilitate better collaboration between academia, industry and the Government to tackle the skills shortfall and develop a common area of dialogue to address this issue. We aim to maintain this dialogue and develop a mechanism that will allow us to make changes that drives an innovative environment that will contribute to overall economic, industrial and social development.

“Whilst freezones, such as DuBiotech, provide businesses with a sound platform to establish in the region and tap booming opportunities in major sectors, education facilities have a major role to play in nurturing the local talent and building a solid knowledge base on which emerging industries can thrive.”

Dr. Ayoub Kazim, Managing Director of Dubai International Academic City and Dubai Knowledge Village said:  “The demand for STEM education is high as STEM skills have been instrumental in building knowledge-based economies that thrive on innovation and production. Armed with the finding from the study, we are working with our existing academic partners towards delivering programs and curricula aligned with the sector’s needs.  We are also able to screen potential academic partners using this evidence in order to emphasise that the courses offered are relevant and serve the needs of business – this is a core part of our strategy moving forward.

“We welcome opportunities and initiatives as a result of industry-academia collaborations.  This effort ties back to the government’s wider vision to develop the region’s talent pool and achieve sustainable economic growth,” Dr. Ayoub added.

Last year, in direct response to industry demand, universities at DIAC added an additional 35 degrees to their existing portfolio – particularly STEM subjects such as engineering, along with tourism and hospitality and accounting.