Developing Saudi Arabia’s tech talent more important than ever

Terry He CEO Huawei Tech Investment Saudi Arabia
Terry He CEO Huawei Tech Investment Saudi Arabia

JEDDAH — With communities and industries across Saudi Arabia depending on ICT networks more than ever before, supporting local talent within the field must remain a priority to ensure business continuity and eventual economic recovery, according to Terry He, CEO of Huawei Tech Investment Saudi Arabia.

Speaking to Saudi Gazette, He said: “The reality is that everyone from healthcare providers to educators, retailers, manufacturers, and others are being affected by COVID-19. That has in turn required many industries in the Kingdom to upskill their people to use advanced technologies to mitigate the challenges posed by the virus. In parallel, the ICT community must also have the adequate local talent to deliver digitization to industries at a time when it’s needed the most.”

Cultivating that talent can, however, be more difficult as the field of education has been one especially impacted by COVID-19 globally. People of all ages are now studying and learning online, with the trend likely to continue for at least the immediate future.

“Those studying in technical fields — especially at the level of higher education — have traditionally depended on the availability of labs, research facilities, and study abroad programs to build their expertise. Recreating these experiences as much as possible through virtual tools is both a necessity and an opportunity,” noted He.

This point has been further reinforced by organizations like UNESCO. The UN entity launched the Global Education Coalition earlier this spring in which international organizations, civil society, and enterprises are now engaged to ensure that “learning never stops” despite the challenges of COVID-19.

Huawei was one of the organizations to join the coalition early on, and has held live webinars for online higher education students to help ensure continuous access to growth opportunities during the suspension of certain academic programs.

“Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, empowering ICT talent was recognized on the national level as contributing towards the realization of Vision 2030, which places a strong emphasis on the economic potential of the ICT sector. There was also a global shortage of ICT talent, including in Saudi Arabia. That talent has only become more vital as economies look to rebound through the application of new technologies to maintain a competitive edge,” added He.

Global HR consulting firm Mercer confirmed in one recent study that organizations in the Middle East should consider re-skilling and training employees to cope with the demands of new technologies, with 31% of global executives concerned about such skills shortages.

Earlier this year, Huawei reiterated its own commitment to developing talent within the Kingdom’s technology sector, celebrating the first anniversary of its Saudi Talent Enabling Program (STEP). The program’s aim remains to benefit 10,000 local talents by 2023.

In addition to developing local talent in the technology field, the expansion of new ICT infrastructure is also proving essential to safeguard against the impact of COVID-19 in the Kingdom. He believes that government authorities in Saudi Arabia are rightly encouraging public and private sector collaboration in the use of advanced technologies in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“We feel a strong sense of responsibility to proactively work with partners to ease the impact of COVID-19, supporting local skills development as well as access to critical ICT solutions and systems,” the executive said.

Just this month, the Madinah Development Authority signed a memorandum with Huawei to use technologies in areas like artificial intelligence (AI), 5G, and cloud technologies to help contain the spread of COVID-19.

When asked about expanding similar initiatives in Saudi Arabia this year, He concluded: “We welcome dialogue and are keen to participate in such opportunities with all partners. In the end, collaboration is the best foundation for building a stronger, digitally-driven tomorrow.”