Training initiatives: A new focus on human resources as the sector expands

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The calibre of Jordan’s human resources is a key factor behind its emergence as a regional IT centre, but the sector faces challenges on the labour front, including the need to ensure that the country’s universities continue to produce graduates up to speed with the latest technology. The government and the private sector are undertaking a range of initiatives and partnerships at all levels of education to address the issue.

One of Jordan’s most commonly cited competitive advantages in the IT industry is the quality of its education system and the availability of high-calibre graduates. “The standard is very impressive, and they hit the ground running,” said Ziad Al Masri, chief marketing officer and partner at games developer Maysalward. The kingdom compares well to other countries in the Middle East. “Jordan is unique in the region,” Ramzi Zeine, the executive chairman of IT and e-payment solutions provider STS, told OBG. “The GCC states don’t have serious IT power or many educated IT professionals; either they’re too small, or they don’t have many IT graduates.” Jordan has no shortage of university-leavers in the field; around 5000 young Jordanians graduate with IT-related degrees each year, approximately 3000 of whom find work in the field in the kingdom itself. In addition to providing qualified labour to local companies, education and human resources have been key factors in attracting major international IT firms. “The main reasons we established our MEA regional office in Jordan were the low operational costs and the calibre of fresh graduates,” said Raed Hajarat, the MEA and Jordan managing director at Oracle, which employs some 60 people in Jordan.

LOSING GROUND: However, there are concerns that the kingdom has recently lost some ground in terms of education and training. “In the past one or two years a gap has opened up between graduates and industry requirements. The industry is changing rapidly and universities have not always kept up with this. It can take two or three years to get approval to change curricula,” Hajarat told OBG, noting that the problem can make it difficult for start-ups to expand beyond their founders. A lack of up-to-date specialisation is part of the problem. “The universities are still teaching some outdated programmes and don’t currently teach app development,” said Zaidoun Karadsheh, the managing director of web content and app developer Media Plus. “Graduates also tend to come out of university with quite general knowledge rather than specialisations in particular programming niches, though we are still able to train them up fairly quickly as the general standard of education is high.”

WHAT FIRMS WANT: Firms are looking to see more training in emerging niches to boost the country’s competitiveness. “Cloud computing is the wave of the future for the IT industry. We therefore need to create national cloud computing programmes and offer workshops in this area to bring the kingdom’s vast array of small and medium-sized enterprises up to speed,” said Rasheed Shakhsheer, the CEO of Estarta Solutions.

Mindful of the risk of failing to keep up with the sector’s rapid development, the government and the private sector are working on initiatives aimed at improving educational standards in IT-related fields. For example, to better address the needs of the sector through training, the Information and Communications Technology Association of Jordan (Int@j) and the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology (MoICT) in January 2012 began a study to identify which ICT skills are most needed by employers.

The study, which is due to be completed by August 2012, will include identifying degree courses from which there are too many graduates as well as areas where there is high demand for graduates to help close the gap between industry needs and candidate qualifications. In another measure aimed at addressing concerns about the gap between universities and industry needs, Int@j and the government are working to launch an ICT academy bridging programme that will provide courses of six to nine months for people looking for work in the industry. Hajarat, who sits on the board of Int@j, said, “We need to react quickly to safeguard our competitiveness, as other countries are bound to undertake similar initiatives.”

ON THE JOB: The government is also working to provide graduates with on-the-job training to increase both their chances of finding employment and the availability of experienced candidates for employers. In October 2011 the MoICT, in collaboration with the Ministry of Labour and Int@j, launched the third phase of a paid internship programme started in 2009 as a joint venture between the government and the private sector and aimed at helping recent university-leavers find jobs in the industry. Under the programme, which involves 184 companies and is open to both recent graduates and holders of IT-related degrees who have been unemployed for less than two years, successful candidates receive 12-month contracts at participating firms, a salary of JD300 ($420) and social insurance. Almost 1000 graduates have participated so far, with another 500 taking part in the latest phase.

GAMING: Another milestone in developing the next generation of Jordanian IT professionals was the inauguration in May 2011 by King Abdullah of the Interactive Gaming Laboratory, which is run by OASIS 500 under the supervision of the Jordanian Gaming Taskforce. The laboratory provides training for would-be game and app developers, offering them a range of equipment, software and platforms on which they can use to hone their skills for free, as well as free programing training sessions. The lab is located in the King Hussein Business Park in the same building as gaming app developer Maysalward, providing trainees with a wealth of expertise just down the hall. The project targets school children as well as adults; for example, Maysalward and the King Abdullah Fund have run two competitions for 14- to 16-year olds to develop apps. Competitors were given three months of training including a five-day full-time course and the winning apps were put on the iTunes app store.

Wider efforts are under way to improve IT literacy among children. Some 86% of the kingdom’s schools are connected to the internet, according to a study by the Jordan Educational Initiative (JEI) and the MoICT released in February 2012, and the government is working to relaunch the national broadband project to provide schools with broadband connections.

The JEI runs a range of projects designed to introduce technology into schools, using it to improve teaching methods and familiarise students with IT. Launched in 2003 by the World Economic Forum, the JEI is based on public-private partnerships involving local and international companies, such as Cisco, Microsoft, Oracle, Rubicon and STS, and donors and organisations, such as UNESCO, the US Agency for International Development and Int@j. The initiative has worked with 102 schools and reached 80,000 pupils to date, as well as seeking to replicate its model in the wider public school system. One example of a JEI-sponsored project is the “personalised learning with ICT” scheme, which provides students with 3G-connected laptops to help promote interactive learning.

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The Report: Jordan 2012

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