Just last month, Riya Sabherwal, an 18-year-old student at the University of Birmingham Dubai, started work at her first job as a barista at the Starbucks reserve store at Mall of the Emirates.
She is employed on a part-time work permit for teenagers that was recently launched in the UAE.
“The UAE government’s decision encouraged me to apply for this job,” says Ms Sabherwal, who is currently pursuing a bachelor's degree in business management.
“The law change has allowed me to experience new prospects that the working industry has to offer, all while being a student. I aim to develop a work discipline and learn more about the hospitality and food industry through my part-time job at Starbucks.”
Under an overhaul of visa regulations in September last year, teenagers aged 15 to 18 can apply for a part-time work permit, although they still need to continue with their education.
It costs employers Dh100 ($27) to apply for the electronic work permit and Dh500 once it is approved. The process can be completed in a day.
Teenagers must have a valid residence visa and their parents also need to give their permission for their children to apply. They are not allowed to work at night in industrial enterprises and must not be hired to do hazardous or strenuous jobs under the UAE labour law.
Under the permit, teenagers are only allowed to work six hours a day and are entitled to one or more breaks totalling one hour. Working overtime or on holidays is prohibited.
Ms Sabherwal applied for the barista’s job through Alshaya Group’s LinkedIn page. Alshaya Group, which owns and operates brands such as Starbucks, H&M and PF Chang’s in the Middle East, helped the teenager to apply for her work permit.
“I had to provide a passport-size photo, copies of my visa, passport and Emirates ID for the work permit and it was a fairly easy process,” she says.
“As a part-timer, I have to work for three days a week, with each shift being for four hours. I chose to work during the weekends [Friday, Saturday and Sunday] as that will help me focus on my studies during the week.”
Ms Sabherwal earns a monthly salary of Dh700 and she aims to use the money to buy birthday gifts for her family.
Allowing teenagers above the age of 15 to work benefits them in many ways, says Waleed Anwar, managing director of Dubai-based recruitment company Upfront HR.
“They learn important life skills such as money management, time management and it helps to build their personality and confidence, among many others, as long as these jobs don’t conflict with their school schedules,” he says.
“Teens get the opportunity to gain on-the-job experience in their desired field of study.”
While teenagers working part-time can earn a regular salary, more importantly, it means they can learn about what they want to do later in life, says Nevin Lewis, chief executive of Black & Grey HR.
It is also a good opportunity for young talent to network and test out different career paths, he says.
Harry Tomkinson-Haw, 14, began an online retail trainer business called VIP Sneakers in December 2021 with hopes of gaining real-world experience as he prepares for his GCSEs in business and media studies next year.
“The UAE’s decision to allow full foreign ownership of companies was a catalyst for the business. I am also thrilled that my business can offer work opportunities for other teenagers. We will be launching this very soon as my siblings and friends are already interested,” Harry says.
“Dubai’s reforms have been a key enabler to the feasibility of the business.”
His mother will own VIP Sneakers until he turns 18, he says.
Harry began his entrepreneurial journey a few years ago with a sweet shop in an Abu Dhabi villa compound and earned Dh1,000 in profit in two weeks, which he donated to a UAE charity.
“My dad saw that I had something in me. I started selling these trainers easily, so my dad decided to invest in me and VIP Sneakers,” he says. “I also put all my savings into the business.”
The teenager and his two business partners, who are in their early 20s, buy trainers from retailers around the world, including in the US, UK and Asia.
“What started off with Dh4,000 invested into four sneakers has now gone up to stocks of 400-plus sneakers. Some of our sneakers can go up to Dh45,000, while normal ones sell for prices starting from Dh1,500,” he says.
Harry and his business partners do not spend any money earned from the business, but instead reinvest it to grow the brand and make it a trusted name. They plan to expand internationally over the next 12 to 18 months.
Harry is keen to gain experience from other high-end fashion outlets, so he plans to apply for the UAE teen part-time work permit when he turns 15.
Several skills can be obtained from part-time work, such as accountability, punctuality, resourcefulness and communication within a professional environment, says Emily Roberts, principal consultant at recruitment consultancy Genie.
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“When I was younger, I had the opportunity to work part-time in a hair salon, which at that moment in time, that is all I wanted to do. I had dreamt of becoming a hairdresser,” says Ms Roberts.
“I spent two weeks there, covering someone’s annual leave and was not in a rush to pursue a career in that area. I ultimately discovered that it wasn’t for me.”
The UAE's hospitality industry will benefit immensely from the part-time teen work permits, particularly during peak seasons when additional manpower may be needed temporarily, Ms Roberts says.
The retail sector will also benefit because it will need more employees during peak hours, she says.
The hospitality and entertainment industries are also expected to hire teenagers on part-time work permits, says Diamond Fares, founder and managing partner of UAE staffing portal Onpoint.
“Being a waiter, a promoter or any other part-time role in these industries is essential for teens as it helps them interact with other people from different backgrounds,” she says.
“Part-time jobs expose teens to new experiences, teach them responsibility and enhance their money management and organisation skills.”
Teenagers must always find an ethical and professional place to search for jobs that can deliver suitable and qualified experiences they deserve, she says.
Colin Alfonso, a 17-year-old Grade 12 pupil at Indian High School Dubai, is currently looking for opportunities to work part-time in the UAE.
As the market is still picking up from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is difficult to find opportunities for teenagers, he says.
“I am looking for opportunities where I can shadow an engineer so as to gain more practical, in-depth knowledge in my field of interest, which is mechanical engineering/aeronautics,” he says.
“I am not driven by the aspect of earning money. Instead, I want to focus on developing a passion and a strong foundation in my field of interest.”
Part-time teen work permits will help to create and strengthen a bridge between future generations and those already in the workforce, he says.
Large companies need to invest and nurture young talent, Mr Lewis says.
Many large companies choose to source talent from colleges for their internship programmes. This is uncharted territory for most employers, he says.
All industries can hire teenagers and nurturing young talent is very important for the future, he says.
“Since this is still a recent update, most employers have not given it much thought but you might start seeing some job posts on Bayt, Naukrigulf and other job boards,” Mr Lewis says.
“I strongly recommend teens to create a wish list of employers, basically companies and leaders who inspire you, and find them on LinkedIn. Reach out to them to explore possibilities and you might land an opportunity to work and learn.”
Teenagers should connect with employers directly, visit companies and personally hand in their applications or CVs if it is safe and easy to get to, while they can also ask to meet somebody from a HR department and offer their services, Mr Anwar says.
They can also contact companies by sending introduction emails, as well as speaking to parents, relatives and friends about their workplace and whether they have a part-time opportunity, he says.
“Choose wisely. Don’t get exploited by bad employers looking to recruit you without a contract. Focus on the experience and learning over money,” Mr Lewis says.