From the mag: talent at the heart of digital transformation

Charles Yang, president of Huawei Middle East Region, discusses why developing ICT talent is vital to the success of the Middle East.
Huawei, Digital transformation, Youth, Empowerment, STEM, ICT, Tech, Services, Society, Future, Technology, Mentoring

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Note: This story first appeared in the November 2018 print edition of CommsMEA.

As digital transformation impacts all our lives, the role of corporate social responsibility is moving towards the inclusion of the creation of new digital innovations with the power to lift the lives of businesses and communities alike. This new paradigm calls for support in developing the talent necessary to driving digital transformation. Human capital is as important as technology to driving successful digitalisation, and governments and organisations must make every effort to achieve further development in the creation of a comprehensive talent ecosystem.

Digital transformation in the Middle East

ICT is vital to the success of Middle Eastern countries’ long-term economic goal of becoming globally competitive, knowledge-based economies. Huawei aims to support the success of this vision by unearthing and nurturing the region’s finest ICT talent in order to develop a local ICT talent ecosystem. In line with Huawei’s mandate to support governments’ digitisation strategies, national visions and plans for growth of critical industries, we decided to run a competition to foster the development of the next generation responsible for driving forward digital transformation. Ultimately, the competition will help Middle East countries achieve their development goals by creating a generation of students equipped with the skills they need to lead their countries’ ICT industry into the future.

Openness and knowledge-sharing are deeply engrained in our ethos, and we have developed many initiatives to ensure our partners and customers have access to the most advanced ICT expertise. We are committed to contributing to the region’s economic growth by developing an ICT talent ecosystem in the Middle East, and we work with government authorities, partners, and universities to identify, support and grow the future leaders of the ICT industry, as well as promote innovation and creativity among the region’s students.

An integral part of our approach to this is our ICT Competition, which is currently going through its second iteration in the Middle East. The competition aims to increase the region’s ICT competitiveness and encourages the youth to contribute to the success of the leadership’s national vision for digital transformation and economic growth.

The ICT Competition explained

The ICT Competition was created to give young people with a curiosity for technology a platform to learn and develop a culture of forward thinking and innovation. It offers students a competitive platform across several stages of national and international competitions. The programme benefits the students by acting as a bridge between the classroom and the workplace, thus enhancing their future employment opportunities in the ICT sector.

Contestants are measured on their knowledge of cloud computing, switching, routing, and network security. It is a unique opportunity for students to test their abilities in ICT’s most cutting-edge fields, and helps colleges and universities better understand enterprises' talent requirements and optimise talent development modes accordingly. Students have access to online training and tests and educational workshops ahead of the competition, as well as tailored tutoring led by university professors and Huawei experts, to ensure they have the skills they need to succeed.

Not only do the winners of the competition receive certificates, trophies, and prizes, they also have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel to China and gain insider access to a top global ICT company. They gain unrivalled exposure to Huawei’s expertise in telecommunications, enterprise, and consumer business, as well as a priceless cultural experience and knowledge exchange. The most outstanding candidates are given the opportunity to secure full-time employment at Huawei at the conclusion of the competition.

Regional impact

In its first edition in 2017, a total of 10,285 students across the Middle East applied for the competition, from which 4,113 were selected to take part in the preliminary rounds. Thirteen teams, including 15 women from the Middle East, qualified for the final round in China, where they participated in many competitive rounds and participated in technical workshops under the supervision of ICT experts from around the world. In the end, a team of students from Lebanon won the first prize.

Huawei had four training partners to help prepare students for the rigorous exam. One hundred and twenty-one universities took part in total, and 65 participated in the roadshow. The ICT Competition was made possible through the support and collaboration of 14 ministries across the Middle East. In each country, these included, for example:

- Pakistan: Higher Education Commission
- Saudi Arabia: Technical and Vocational Training Corporation and the Communications and Information Technology Commission
- UAE: Abu Dhabi Crown Prince’s Court
- Iraq: Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research
- Kuwait: Kuwait Direct Investment Promotion Authority
- Lebanon: Ministry of Telecommunications
- Oman: Ministry of Labour, Telecommunications Regulator Authority
- Jordan: Ministry of Education
- Bahrain: Ministry of Communications and Transportation, Board of Economic Development, Tamkeen Foundation and National Skills Development Committee

We see the strong government support and high student participation in the ICT Competition as evidence of the initiative’s success, leading us to expand on it for a second round this year. We are expecting as many as 17,170 students to register, and our roadshow will reach nearly double the number of universities – we will visit 112 universities in the region to encourage students to participate and build up the local ICT talent ecosystem. 

After the conclusion of the 2017 ICT Competition, we organised a conference at our headquarters in Shenzhen, China, with the participating countries’ ambassadors and government partners, academics from different universities, and UNESCO representatives. The students and professors’ input on how to strengthen the Competition’s value to their home country was listened to closely, and helped inform the implementation of the second ICT Competition to take place in the region this year.

The strong encouragement we have received to repeat the campaign demonstrates that students and educational and government leaders see the ICT Competition as a valuable tool to develop the region’s ICT talent pool and contribute to the successful achievement of national economic and development goals.

Huawei’s role in developing the Middle East’s ICT talent ecosystem

The ICT Competition is just one of many initiatives we have launched to develop the Middle East’s ICT talent ecosystem. In Saudi Arabia, we implemented a Seeds for the Future programme to offer training and internships to promising students across the region. We also launched our Future Leaders Programme this year, an initiative which provides Saudi students with three months of technical training and hands-on practice on ICT projects in order to prepare them to become engaged members of the workforce in line with Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030. Since the start of the programme in 2016, Huawei has graduated four batches of students, for a total of 125 trainees. The results are promising: out of the total graduates, 97% were hired as official employees at Huawei.

And this is just the start. We have just signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT) to provide the kingdom with a variety of training programmes over the next three years. The goal is to enhance the MCIT’s capabilities and assist in their efforts to build a knowledge economy and foster the goals of Vision 2030 and the National Transformation Plan 2020. The MoU also establishes an agreement between Huawei and MCIT to further develop its innovation centre in the kingdom to include artificial intelligence and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies designed to support Saudi entrepreneurship.

From 2018 to 2020, an estimated 15,000 Saudis will undergo training from Huawei in skills related to ICT across the board. Two of the programmes, the Future Leaders Programme and the Aramco NITI Programme, will end with full-time employment for every trainee. Huawei will also provide awareness programmes to be delivered through VSIC visits as well as its innovative and effective ICT Skill Competition, which should reach an additional 5,000 students and trainees.

In particular, the further joint developments to Huawei’s existing Customer Solution Integration and Innovation Experience Centre (CSIC) facility will focus on the development and utilisation of AI and IoT technologies in enabling the kingdom’s entrepreneurs. These investments will allow entrepreneurs to use these platforms to further pursue innovation, as well as to train themselves and their organisations for success as the digital transformation becomes more comprehensive.

We also organised Seeds for the Future, an educational training initiative that provides university students with the right platform to present their innovative ICT ideas and projects and to transform them into effective products and tangible reality. The program seeks to enhance the skills of the younger generation through hands-on training opportunities under the direct supervision of the company’s senior knowledge experts. The participants are also given the opportunity to travel to Shenzhen to train in Huawei’s laboratories, research centres and various departments, and gain field experience.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution mandate

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is starting. The primary engine of this new revolution will be artificial intelligence, and the fuel for this engine will be ICT. In order to jump on the train of digital transformation, all public and private stakeholders need to scale up their network capabilities and business models, upgrade their expertise and develop open partnerships to overcome all current challenges towards the goal of building a more sustainable future for individuals, communities and business.

As a natural evolution of our investment in ICT talent, we have pledged US$140 million in AI talent education. Globally we just launched our AI Developer Enablement Programme at Huawei Connect 2018, and we will import the programme in the Middle East very soon. The programme will help Huawei collaborate with developers, partners, universities, and research institutions. We will use the programme to build a better development ecosystem that can support AI resources, platforms, courses, and joint solutions.

Huawei’s mission is to bring digital to every person, home, and organisation, for a fully connected and intelligent world. Vital to our success is the development of an ecosystem of advanced ICT talent. Building a brighter future depends on equipping the rising generation with the skills they need to create a better world. The Middle East’s predominantly young population provides a huge opportunity to shape the digital leaders of the future. We hope that our initiatives will empower them to create a more sustainable, progressive, and connected society for future generations.

Charles Yang is president of Huawei Middle East Region.

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