How private-sector Emiratisation and national service can work hand in glove

The majority of companies not only accept Emiratisation as a policy but embrace it as a civic duty. They simply need assistance in managing this challenge.

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The UAE’s Emiratisation policy has many antagonists complaining that it is unfair and untenable. Thankfully, they are a sad minority driven by greed and a lack of respect for their host country. The majority of companies not only accept Emiratisation as a policy but embrace it as a civic duty. They simply need assistance in managing this challenge. There are several potential solutions and this article will examine one potentially powerful approach: a public private partnership.

The idea focuses on the newly enacted law for UAE national service. Emiratis who complete secondary school will be required to complete nine months of national service. This law not only enhances the security of the nation, it places Emiratis in a position to acquire many skills. The challenge for the private sector is to identify and develop ways to participate and in return benefit from this new policy. In short it is a perfect opportunity to innovate and link private sector Emiratisation to the national service creating a win-win-win scenario between the government, Emiratis and the private sector.

Although the details of the national service programme are of course confidential to the government it is clear that a nine month programme is much more than the basic two to three month training around the globe and that therefore there could be the opportunity to augment pure military training with combined military/business training that creates value for the military but at the same time is a skill transferable to the private sector. A sample of such skills might include logistics, procurement, telecom, IT security and project management. Those are the obvious skill sets. Soft skills that might make sense include public relations, human resources and branding.

For the former class of skills an example might be logistics and the closely related field of supply chain management. As the UAE is a regional and international logistics and freight forwarding hub, there are a large number of third party logistics companies with a strong presence in the country that could provide training for Emiratis undergoing national service so that they may learn global best practice on the subject of logistics. Such training supports their role in the national service and is also transferable to the private sector. A win for the government and the Emiratis in the training programme. But what of the private sector companies? They can benefit if the government agrees that any Emirati being trained by the company contributes to their Emiratisation quota. In fact, since training is more valuable than simple employment, the government might consider applying a multiple: for each month that an Emirati is trained it equals two (or possibly more) months of an Emirati being employed.

Where possible, specific measurable goals should be applied to avoid controversy. This is not always possible but one idea would be to use globally accepted certifications. One example would be on project management skills, a ubiquitous skill necessary for success in nearly any endeavour. In this case, the global management consulting companies such as the big four professional services firms, as well as the well known and strongly presented in the UAE global management consultants, can adequately provide this training. These consultants can build a stronger relationship with their major client by not only partnering to provide training to national service Emiratis but also targeting that every single one of their trainees acquires the coveted Program Management Professional certification. The government can reward proactive and successful application of such a participatory training programme with not only Emiratisation credits but preferred partner status in granting contracts. It goes without saying that the private partner reaps added value by having ties to the Emiratis that they have trained, which increases the companies’ business network and improves business development opportunities.

The softer areas of potential training, such as PR, HR and branding, might not seem as desirable but are no less important than the skills already discussed both to the national service as well the private sector. The large number of PR and HR firms operating in the UAE stand testament to demand for such services in the country and the wider region. In an overly competitive private market, a partnership with the UAE national service effort is a great way to give back and to differentiate oneself.

The bottom line is that there are two major government policies, Emiratisation and national service, whereby the private sector can create value by linking the two. It is not clear that government policy is open to such an approach, but the potential upside for any business that can provide an effective solution that the government accepts is immense. It is therefore in the best interest of private companies to engage the government and explore these potential ideas.

Sabah Al Binali is an active investor and entrepreneurial leader, with a track record of financing, building and growing companies in the Mena region

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