The age of specialisation is well upon us

This article appeared originally in Gulf News: link to original article

“Average is over”. And, no, that isn’t the title of my upcoming book.

“Average is over” is the title of a book written by Tyler Cowen and is rated 3.6 on Goodreads. There are a lot of concepts and arguments that I do not agree with the author on; however, the book does portray a certain change in the dynamics of labour markets to which little or no attention is paid.

I previously argued on several occasions about the importance of labour specialisation. I also pointed out to how there are way too many subfields within different majors.

That is, being a doctor practicing general medicine isn’t enough anymore, and being just a surgeon isn’t enough either. Back in university, there were two main fields that UAE nationals would go for: business and engineering.

Then, and within these fields of study, most would go for finance and civil engineering respectively. The engineering trend was particularly apparent that I always used to tell my engineering friends that they will end up unemployed.

They did end up being employed, with many of them getting their CFAs and thus switching to careers at investment companies or sovereign wealth funds.

Analyse this — There are thousands of students who graduate from the UAE’s universities every year. And no matter how specialised individual courses at universities are, majors are too generic that the graduating students almost seem obliged to go for whatever job even if that meant switching careers to make ends meet.


A similar trend existed earlier in the US such as the one that existed in stock market careers.

As of the time of writing this article, there was no such thing as a quota on different majors in universities and I do not think that any will be introduced any time soon.

However, that doesn’t mean that students cannot be educated on what the market needs and what it has in excess of, and that doesn’t mean either neglecting the importance of training people in acquiring particular sets of skills that are in shortage in the job market.

This is of particular importance for Emiratisation to work. My generation was that of civil engineers and finance analysts.

My much younger sibling’s generation is that of engineers specialised in renewable energy as well as nuclear energy.

And when a decent number of students embark on a certain field, a herding effect ensures that most follow suit.

In a changing world, being normal gets you normal. And in the UAE, having a similar degree to that of anyone else means a reduced chance of employment unless the government spends money to create jobs and absorb the excess in the market.

That doesn’t work in the long run. To fix the “anyone can do everything trend”, you are not expected to learn how to work with a machine like the author of “Average is over” predicts the future of humanity will be.

Enhancing skills

Instead, one must start with a major in university, but then take a step further into enhancing skills towards being more specialised in a certain aspect of their field of studies.

So if you are in finance, be the one who’s really good at corporate finance. If a civil engineer, be the best at planning water distribution and connections, for instance.

Being good is not enough anymore, and a time will come when the really good ones will get the best of jobs in both public and private sectors.

The rest will have to do with the jobs that companies offer to inflate their Emiratisation figures. I nowadays joke with my engineer friends saying: “You guys are taking our jobs”.

My feeling is that this has turned today into a bad joke. The last thought that I want to leave you with is: What would happen when the government can no longer create enough jobs to absorb excess jobseekers? (Hint: full-time SMEs).