The academy’s strategies are aligned with the UAE’s post-Covid strategies.
A digital future needs a workforce conversant in digital medium. Recently, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, launched New Media Academy that aims to educate and empower a digital-first future workforce. In an interview with Khaleej Times, its CEO Rashid Al Awadhi tells us why digital learning has become the need of the hour and how Covid-19 has expedited that process.
As CEO of New Media Academy, what are the key goals you plan to deliver on?
His Highness Sheikh Mohammed is one of the leaders of influence on social media. He has always wanted that to spread as much as possible across his people. Last year, he launched 10 articles about how to be on social media, which had a lot to do with being curious, cultural and friendly. He instructed us to open this academy. It came at the perfect time because when people talk about digital transformation, they assume it is technical; it is, in fact, a mindset. When Covid-19 happened, it exposed a lot of entities because they weren’t ready for the digital leap.
The academy’s strategies are aligned with the UAE’s post-Covid strategies, but also on top of that, there’s a lot of strategies related to artificial intelligence (AI), smart cities and all of this require people who are highly skilled in digital medium. There was a report by the World Economic Forum in 2018 called “The Future of Jobs” that predicted by 2022, 50 per cent of jobs that we have currently will not exist; there will be new jobs.
The other thing is education has not changed in the last 40-50 years, and it is probably an industry that is ripe for disruption right now. It’s already happened and it will continue to happen to a large extent. The New Media Academy is at an intersection of those things – we have a duty to help people to be skilled in what is required today and tomorrow.
To start with, what are some of the key aspects of digital learning you’re focusing on at this point?
We are creating a full-stack digital marketer. This means today, this is a person who needs to know strategy and content creation, understand analytics, SEO and how social media connects with your website, among other things. You must have this knowledge to a certain degree. If you do that, you will be successful in tomorrow’s economy.
What sort of mindset shift is needed for a digital-first approach?
People need to understand the criticality of a digital-first mindset. Every strategy we have right now, it is necessary to have digital mindset for that. If you keep it as an option, if you don’t reskill and upskill your teams to be digital-first, you’re going to struggle in whatever industry you are. We feel it’s important we train people who are at the onset, who are directly working in the field. If people are in traditional media, they need to be reskilled. We all know how much of a hit traditional media took, not just during Covid-19, but even before that. Traditional media, in its original sense, is no longer coming back.
People need to understand the future of media, which is in digital. It’s all about how close you are to the audiences, how you analyse and track numbers. At the same time, it’s very important for leadership in many entities to have at least a basic understanding of digital so that they help operating teams to move. If that happens, we will see a big development in the next few years.
Would you say the challenges the pandemic has brought forth has further emphasised the need for a ‘digital-first’ future?
Covid was not the change-maker, it was the accelerator. People have been hearing that they need to move from traditional marketing to digital marketing. It’s just that everyone had been taking it lightly. Covid just threw people into the deep end of the pool; it told them there’s no more thinking, you have to do it. A lot of people learnt on the go, they did good things, a lot of others did not have the understanding or capability to do what was necessary. Let’s be real, nothing is going to go back to what it was like four months ago.
As a keen observer of digital transformations in the region, how would you map the UAE’s digital evolution over the years?
Generally, the UAE is at the forefront of everything when it comes to digital. The thing with us is that we are also interconnected with the region and the rest of the world. Now it’s our duty to bring everyone along with us and hence a lot of our programmes are not only meant for the UAE, but also for entities across the region. Even in digital and social space, we need to work together and develop collectively.
What sort of educators are being brought on board?
Our curriculum is a custom-built one. If you break it up, you can find everything. We have some of the top educators in the world who have helped us build this curriculum. We have someone called Matt Bailey, who is a professor at Duke University in Masters programme and Pablo Sanchez, who teaches Masters in digital programme in Barcelona. Both of them are involved in setting industry standards in digital. That’s just one layer. We also wanted people who were experts in digital – not necessarily academics but who consult top brands.
This includes Caleb Gardner, who was the adviser to former POTUS Barack Obama. For the third layer, we brought top content creators in the world; Mark Wiens, a food blogger-turned-vlogger, is among them. The fourth layer is where we are looking at people who can share in-depth knowledge about different social networks. We got Bryan Franzo, who will share in-depth knowledge on YouTube and how its algorithms work. We have a concept called open learning where you learn something and then you are asked to do a project, which is posted on our social channels and reviewed by experts.
In your opinion, how and why is it important to formalise education of social media?
Because organically, it’s been slower than what we need. We need to accelerate digital learning. We have only announced two programmes, but we will shortly be announcing another two dozen programmes. For us, it’s now very important to reach people at a much younger age. Right now, we have a programme for people who want to do content creation full-time, they are going to be people of influence in future. Then there is a programme for government employees. If you look at the age group, they are all above 21. That’s not going to be the future of our programmes, we are going to go down to lower ages as well. We will have programmes for both university as well as high school students so that the professional world of digital comes to them at an earlier age.
The academy is focused on the young. What happens to that mid-career and older workforce that’s not fully conversant in digital language?
The reason why we talk about youth is because it is the largest percentage of population of Arab world. It’s not that we are not looking at anybody other than the youth. It so happens that our priorities are there because of sheer numbers. Today, if somebody works in PR and they write Press releases and handle media relations, our courses will upskill and reskill them for digital because their ability to write and tell stories in traditional format is fantastic. All you need to do is package that skill for digital.