Government bodies hire more Emiratis

The drive to get more Emiratis into the workforce is heating up in Abu Dhabi and elsewhere in the region.

DUBAI - NOVEMBER 10,2009 - Emirati students looking for a job in Private and Public sector during Career fair held at Mens Dubai College in Dubai. ( Paulo Vecina/The National )
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Government bodies in Abu Dhabi are hiring more Emiratis in a fresh drive to raise the profile of citizens in the local workforce.

It follows a call by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, for government departments and companies to help more than 6,000 newly trained Emiratis to find jobs.

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Numerous companies and departments are responding by revising recruitment strategies and coordinating with the Abu Dhabi Tawteen Council, the emirate's main Emiratisation body, to find local candidates to fill vacancies, said people familiar with the matter.

"There's very definite evidence of commitment to making this happen particularly in Abu Dhabi, where the very strong preference is for a UAE national," said one recruiter who asked not to be named. "In some cases very senior critical hires have been held back until they find the right person."

Andrew Shaw, the managing director of Ducab, a cable manufacturer jointly owned by the Abu Dhabi and Dubai governments, said the recent escalation of Emiratisation was increasing exposure to programmes in place for years.

Ducab set up vocational training to groom Emiratis to be the company's next managers about three-and-a-half years ago, he said, and added the company was on track to achieve a target of having Emiratis make up 20 per cent of its white-collar workforce by the end of the year.

"Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed has been very public, and Abu Dhabi has taken a lead in pushing and promoting Emiratisation, but the reality is it has been going on for a while," Mr Shaw said.

"There's been strong encouragement for us to move on this. Yes, there's more of a push to it, but there's been a strong push - quiet but firm, you might say - for the past few years."

Across the Gulf, governments are stepping up efforts to find jobs for citizens.

Education and professional training have long been priorities in the region, but reforms following this year's unrest in parts of the Arab world coupled with a burgeoning population of working-age job candidates have lent extra urgency to those moves.

Saudi Arabia recently said it would start enforcing quotas for Saudis in private-sector companies based there. The country's labour ministry is currently hammering out new rules to replace unskilled foreigners with citizens, according to a report this week.

"It is obvious that the unskilled foreign labour has invaded the country and are being detrimental to the economy of the country and the citizens," said Adel Fakieh, the labour minister, according to Saudi press reports.

Qatar, Oman and Bahrain all have similar programmes and bodies to promote employment among citizens, but Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been more active than most countries in the region.

As part of the drive, education, health, industry and a wide range of other sectors are vying to attract and train citizens, bringing more balance to workforces composed almost entirely of expatriates.

Abu Dhabi this week announced an overhaul of its primary education system that will staff most of its schools with female Emirati teachers. Some of Abu Dhabi's government departments and government-owned companies have also had budgets slashed and reduced expatriate headcounts as Emiratis prepare to take higher-level jobs, said sources familiar with the situation.

"We have a growing number of good young graduates with good degrees coming from the United States or Western Europe," said Panos Manolopoulos, the managing partner of the recruitment firm Stanton Chase International in Dubai. "We have seen in the past year that regardless of this Emiratisation there have been a small percentage of Emirati candidates on our shortlist."

As Emiratis take advantage of education and training, there is evidence they are gradually making inroads into the local workforce. While many Emiratisation efforts focus on education, some involve mentoring programmes where expatriate workers train Emiratis to take their place.

Mariam Al Mahmoud, the director of education and training at the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation, said she was a prime example of how Emiratisation and mentoring could work. Ms Al Mahmoud, whose organisation is more than half Emirati staffed, recently replaced her US mentor after he retired.

"Knowledge is being transferred through the mentor," she said. "I am an example of this."