Understanding Technology’s Impact on the Evolution of UAE Job Markets

September 21, 2018

By Dr. Mohammad Omar, Dr. Wei Lee Woon and Dr. Zeyar Aung

As the world we live in becomes increasingly digitalized and automated, there is a pressing need to understand the social and economic impact that these rapid technological advances will have on job markets and the overall economy.

In this evolving business landscape, employers need to know how jobs are changing; employees need to know which skills to develop; and policy makers need to create an enabling environment in which the best matches between job-seekers and employers can be made.

But determining exactly how job markets, and subsequently entire industries, evolve over time in response to technological advances is challenging. However, our team at Masdar Institute has found a way to overcome this challenge with a customized tool that can collect and analyze data on thousands of different jobs in the Gulf region. This tool can help provide the insight needed to determine exactly how job markets are changing and provide answers to questions like: how is automation affecting the UAE oil and gas industry? Ultimately, the tool will guide the development of measures and policies that employers and policymakers can take to prepare for these approaching market impacts.

This project began two years ago in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). MIT was conducting research on how job skills in the United States have been changing over time in response to automation using the Occupational Information Network (O*NET), a database of nearly 1,000 occupational characteristics developed by the US Department of Labor. O*NET is continually updated by surveying a broad range of workers from each occupation – information which forms the basis for the 277 descriptors that define the skills and key features of each occupation. By comparing different years of O*NET – for example 2010 and 2016 – MIT researchers can see how job skills for certain occupations have changed.

Our team used O*NET as a starting point to construct a similar database that is customized to UAE jobs. But our database extends the analysis conducted by MIT to determine the effects that changes in occupations will have on markets as a whole. In other words, we have developed a novel tool that can analyze how changes in job skills not only affect individual occupations, but an entire sector, like oil and gas.

To develop this tool, we leveraged computer science methods to collect and analyze data on occupations taken from thousands of different job advertisements posted on job search engines like Monster Gulf and Naukri. We developed a text-mining program that searches all job advertisements in a given sector in the Gulf region, and analyzes this information to generate a weighted list of occupations. This weighted list reveals the types of occupations that are in greatest demand in a given market. As an added advantage, our tool has visualization capabilities, presenting the occupational weights and rankings with a visual representation – a feature that makes the data much more understandable for a wider range of users

Essentially, what we’ve created is a virtual microscope that allows us to zoom in on a given industry and identify the jobs that are most sought after and if those job skills are becoming more automated. If they are, then we know that the overall job market has swung in favor of greater automation in that industry. This first-of-its-kind labor database for the GCC region can be used directly to study any labor market dynamics – based on specific sector or required analysis – in great resolution. A paper describing this research was published last year in the conference proceedings of the 22nd International Conference on Neural Information Processing.

Our Masdar Institute team includes Dr. Mohammad Omar, Professor of Engineering Systems Management, Dr. Wei Lee Woon, Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Dr. Zeyar Aung, Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Dr. Yousef AlHammadi, Assistant Professor of Engineering Systems Management, PhD students Reem al Junaibi and Armin Alibasic, and MSc student Wala’ AlKhader.

AlKhader used the tool to analyze current trends in UAE job markets. She found that high-skill occupations, such as those in the medical, education, computer and engineering sectors, are benefiting from an increase in automation and technology. While low-skilled occupations, including construction workers, operators and machine setters, are among the jobs almost disappearing. Additionally, her analysis found that interpersonal and analysis skills are increasingly the most in demand, while demand for basic and sensory skills is decreasing. Her findings demonstrate the usefulness of the tool for managers and policy makers, who can use this information to better plan for the educational training needed for workers to be suited for in-demand jobs.

This project represents an impressive effort to develop a systematic body of information on occupational characteristics and job markets in the UAE. However, our work is ongoing, as we are still conducting further analysis of the data to glean more information and clarity on the changes we are seeing in job skills and occupations in particular industries in the Gulf.

Dr. Mohammad Omar is Department Head and Professor of Engineering Systems Management; Dr. Wei Lee Woon is Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science; and Dr. Zeyar Aung is Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

20 November 2016