Episode 53 guest speaker Her Excellency Ohood Khalfan Al Roumi

Building a platform for digital skills

with Her Excellency Ohood Khalfan Al Roumi

Host Olivia Neal talks to H.E. Ohood Khalfan Al Roumi, Minister of State for Government Development of the Future in the United Arab Emirates. She explains how the UAE are approaching building digital skills at scale.

Episode summary

Host Olivia Neal talks to Her Excellency Ohood Khalfan Al Roumi, Minister of State for Government Development of the Future in the United Arab Emirates. She explains how the UAE are approaching building digital skills at scale through their Jahiz platform, and why understanding digital needs to start from the top.

Building digital talent in government to be future ready

Host Olivia Neal talks to Her Excellency Ohood Khalfan Al Roumi, Minister of State for Government Development of the Future in the United Arab Emirates. She explains how the UAE are approaching building digital skills at scale through their Jahiz platform, and why understanding digital needs to start from the top.

Nurturing talent

Her Excellency Ohood Khalfan Al Roumi has two roles in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) government.

“I am the Minister of State for Government Development and the Future. My Portfolio ensures that our government, the UAE government, is ready for the future. I am also the chairperson of the Federal Authority for Government Human Resources, which looks after the human resources and talent in our government.”

H.E. Al Roumi continued, “Our aim is to be among the best governments of the world. And therefore, it’s very important for us to have the best talent in our government. I think being ready for the future, one main component is being ready with our talents. That’s very important for our talent to be ready in terms of their skills, and hence upskilling and investing in skilling our people is very important.”

Skilling across the whole of government

“I was reading a report for the World Economic Forum talking about the importance of skilling in general, that investing in skilling will increase the global GDP by 6.5 trillion. As government, we are facing today many challenges that were not there even five years ago. If we talk about AI adoption, we talk about recovering from pandemics, we talk about economic shifts, we talk about climate change, these challenges are new for us. And amid these challenges or changes, we need to develop the right policies and laws and regulations. Then having the right understanding of these topics, having the right skills will really help us stay ahead of these changes, utilize the opportunities that they offer and avoid any negative consequences.”

H.E. Al Roumi explained further, “If we don’t understand these topics, we might over-regulate them or under-regulate them. And this might create maybe negative consequences in our societies or hinder our economic progress. I think investment in upskilling is very important for us as a government and we need to start at the very top. I think it’s crucial for us as a government there. And when we talk about upskilling or skilling, we’re talking about all levels of government. Therefore, we started a program last November aimed at upskilling all levels of employees in the government. The name of this platform is called Jahiz. Jahiz in Arabic means ‘ready’. Jahiz is customized, a digital platform that offers modules and master classes, both in Arabic and English, in key areas that we think are crucial for our government. And to develop that platform we worked with partners to have the right content. We want the content to be timely, relevant, and practical.”

“So right now, we’re working with 18 international and national partners. And actually, our first partner was Microsoft. And I would like to thank Microsoft for believing in our vision, because I think working with Microsoft was crucial for laying the credibility and success of this platform.”

The types of skills needed

“We designed the skills in Jahiz platform according to the UAE’s vision. So, these skills are crucial for our future readiness. We have four categories of skills. We have the new economy skills. We have the digital skills. We have AI and data skills. And then we have the 10x skills. We have a very ambitious economic agenda. We would like to provide the best quality of life for people living here in the UAE, to creating a resilient, dynamic, sustainable, diversified economy. Our target is to double our GDP by 2030.”

H.E. Al Roumi offered an example, “So one main category focuses on the new sectors that we would like to develop in the UAE, for example, the digital economy. Also, green skills are very important for us because you know that sustainability, climate change is the agenda right now globally. We will host COP28 in November this year, and we were the first country in the Middle East and North Africa to commit to a net zero agenda by 2050. So therefore, we’re focusing a lot on sustainability and green skills.”

“We know that the future will be very much digital, and the powers of nations will not be limited to their economic or political powers, but also to their digital powers. And we have a very ambitious digital agenda. Therefore, we’re focusing a lot on AI, on metaverse, on blockchain, all the digital skills. And also, we have the 10x skills because if we have this ambitious agenda, we need to 10x the effort and the speed of our delivery. And we have a range of skills, of new skills that we need to boost our efforts, which is for example, imagination, creativity, growth mindset and boosting productivity.”

H.E. Al Roumi shared the uptake of the platform so far, “We have around 40,000 employees actively engaging with the platform right now. We have launched 10 skills since November. We have the 185,000 achievement badges for employees, and around 260,000 hours of learning.”

Every leader needs to be a digital leader

“We’re rolling the skills by category. So, we started with digital skills first because we think they are the most important for us right now. But we’re focusing on all levels. For me, every leader needs to be a digital leader. We are a government with AI strategy, with blockchain strategy, with metaverse strategy, with a very ambitious digital plan. Therefore, digital skills are very important for us. They are not a nice to have.”

H.E. Al Roumi added, “A couple of weeks ago, we had the pleasure to host Brad Smith, the president of Microsoft, who delivered an excellent Master Class on generative AI to more than 700 government leaders. It’s very important for us to start with the leaders, because if you are not digitally savvy, or if you are at least digitally aware, you become outdated, and it’s very dangerous if we have outdated leaders of the government.”

Advice for other governments

How can other governments implement the kind of upskilling work that the UAE is doing? H.E. Al Roumi has three ideas to share, the first being: focus on partnerships.

“You know, we as a government, we don’t understand everything, we don’t know everything, we can’t do everything by ourself. So it’s very important to bring on partners who share the same vision, who can give the credibility of the platform. I am a firm believer of creating meaningful partnerships. Because these partnerships will bring positive impact and a greater impact.”

“Second, I would say going digital is very important. If we want to reach a large number of employees in a relatively short time, then going virtual is the way. And also, it gives the flexibility to employees to learn at their pace, anytime and anywhere.” 

“And lastly, I would say create incentives. So for us, we created Jahiz race where government entities, they compete against each other to win an award on future readiness, based on the speed and rate of completion of their employees in each skill.”

Finding inspiration for the future

“I’m not a technologist. I am an economist by training and by profession. So it’s very important for me to stay updated with technology, both personally and professionally. I set aside a time in my schedule every Friday. I call it Future Friday, where young members of my team – and honestly, they are more tech savvy than me – sit with me and teach me about the recent technologies. And I really, really enjoy these sessions to stay updated with the recent technology.”

Al Roumi continued, “I’m also chair of the Higher Committee on Government Digital Transformation in the UAE. And this committee acts as a platform or a catalyst for digital transformation in government entities and encourages collaborations among them. And this helps me stay updated with the digital trends and their implications on government.”

“I think the future opportunities are big and exciting. And while I don’t think we all need to be a technologist; I think we should know how to use technology as a tool to better serve our people. I think technology provides excellent tools for us as government to reduce our costs or improve our efficiency, and ultimately provide better services for our people. Let’s take, for example, AI. AI is a tool that is massively disrupting the way we work, the way we live, the way we interact. But we need to remind ourselves that it’s just a tool. What matters is how do we use it.”

“And what excites me most about technology, honestly, is its ability to augment our capabilities. So with the right skills, and with the right tools, we can use technology as a tool to strengthen our capabilities, to amplify our strength and unlock greater potential from humans.”

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