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Nine in 10 UAE firms working to build AI skills, Microsoft says

Ninety three per cent of UAE companies are actively developing the artificial intelligence skills of their workforce, matching the global average, according to Microsoft.

Businesses in the Emirates are prioritising AI capabilities to complement the talents of their people and to bridge the skills gap, the software maker said in a survey.

Nearly 78 per cent of the UAE employees, against the global average of 64 per cent, said they have already benefitted from AI reskilling programmes initiated by their employers, according to its survey.

“This new study analyses how AI leaders are driving more business value in the new environment as companies skill, upskill and reskill the workforce to make them future ready,” Ihsan Anabtawi, chief operating officer and chief marketing officer of Microsoft in the UAE, said.

Microsoft's report, which polled more than 600 employees and leaders within larger enterprises across the UAE, said businesses are cultivating AI skills across every category – ranging from advanced data analysis and critical thinking to communications and creativity.

In June, the Redmond-based company opened an AI centre for energy in Dubai to experiment technologies that could be used globally. It joined forces with ten other partners, including Honeywell, Rockwell Automation, ABB, Sensia and Accenture, to run the centre.

Microsoft's latest report also found that almost all UAE workers (97 per cent) are keen to take part in AI reskilling initiatives, compared to a global figure of 92 per cent.

Nearly 77 per cent of the respondents, who are working within an organisation already using AI, admitted their employers are actively preparing them for a digital future. Globally, only 70 per cent indicated their employers are preparing them for the AI-powered world.

“We are seeing a virtuous cycle emerge among those companies who extract the greatest value from AI … these leaders have realised that having the right skills [will] enable them to unlock more value from AI,” Mr Anabtawi said.

The UAE, the Arab world's second-largest economy, is projected to benefit the most in the region from AI adoption. The technology is expected to contribute up to 14 per cent to the country’s gross domestic product – equivalent to Dh352.5 billion – by 2030, according to a report by consultancy PwC.

The UAE is also among a handful of countries to have an overarching AI strategy supported by the government. The country appointed a minister of state for artificial intelligence in 2017 to ramp up its investments in AI while it also instituted Abu Dhabi's Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence, the world’s first graduate-level, research-based AI university. The institution plans to welcome its first 100 students from 31 countries in January 2021.

“The high-tech UAE economy advanced by initiatives such as the National AI Strategy 2031 will accelerate new opportunities and generate significant growth … a high priority in the current UAE economy,” Mr Anabtawi said.

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