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    Bridging Academia and Industry in the UAE with Work-Integrated Learning

    In recent years, technology drastically changed how we live, work, and learn. Professionals no longer need to live close to their jobs: remote work reduces their commute. Learning is now easier than before too, thanks to better online access and flexible schedules.

    But, these changes haven’t been all positive. Employers, academic institutions, and students, all face challenges in keeping up as technology continues to advance. They must all work together to ensure they remain relevant amid the challenges ahead. Work-integrated learning (WIL) can help.

    Work-Integrated Learning

    Around the world, employer surveys often cite a lack of skills among graduates as a reason for labor market challenges in hiring. WIL is one way to narrow this gap between employer requirements and graduates’ attributes. After all, employers are expected to provide some level of training for new employees anyway. But the experiential nature of WIL allows university students to blend real-world work experience during their studies. WIL opportunities require a partnership involving three participants:

    (1) a host organization (an employer);

    (2) an academic institution; and

    (3) a student.

    These three all collaborate to enhance the student’s profile in several areas and cultivate a talent pipeline for the market.

    Why WIL is relevant to the UAE

    As part of its National Strategy of 2030, the UAE aims to promote education and human capital. The Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation (AGF) helps to deliver on this aim through its mission to support Emirati and Arab youth development and employability under its Education 360 pillar. The Foundation also promotes experiential learning pathways—i.e. WIL—under this pillar.

    Supporting WIL through partnerships

    “Work-integrated learning is a benefit to the student and the employer. Real-world work experiences that support both academic outcomes and boost employment prospects is a win for everyone,” said AGF’s CEO, Dr. Sonia Ben Jaafar.

    In carrying out its Education 360 activities, the Foundation partnered with the global leader in WIL: The University of Waterloo. Together they are exploring how WIL can improve UAE graduates’ labor market outcomes.

    They started in 2022 with a Work-Integrated Learning Readiness Assessment. Multiple stakeholders including government agencies, students, employers, and universities all reported enthusiasm for WIL as a method to enhance work readiness among youth in the UAE. In addition, they found that the existing environment is a strength for developing WIL opportunities.

    Carolyn Lee, Educational Developer at Work Learning Institute, University of Waterloo, highlights WIL’s importance when launching the assessment by saying, “Work Integrated Learning is a very effective strategy for post-secondary institutions to provide opportunities for students to explore different sectors, different employers and different job types before they graduate. This way students are better able to integrate into the labour market after graduation.”

    This outcome paper summarizes key findings and recommendations emerging from the first phase. Phase 1 gauged the feasibility of WIL models within UAE-based institutions.

    Follow us for our updates on our pilot with UAE universities and how students are finding new ways to learn, earn, and find pathways to better work opportunities with industry partners.