New labour law to boost Emiratisation

To help bring about the required changes, initiatives such as intensive training courses and new labour laws are being brought in.

Efforts to get more UAE nationals into the private sector are being hampered because of an "expectations" mismatch between expatriate managers and Emirati workers.

Responding to a poll, carried out by YouGovSiraj for The National, of companies that showed qualified support for the Emiratisation policy, Abdullah al Darmaki, the general manager of the Abu Dhabi Tawteen Council, says Emiratisation is a "main policy pillar" to reduce unemployment but adds there is still work to be done in that area. "The challenge is helping businesses find the right quality of Emirati to do the job and getting Emiratis up to the right level to be qualified for the job," says Mr al Darmaki.

The YouGovSiraj annual economic survey shows only 13 per cent of respondents say they fully support the Government's Emiratisation programme. But 67 per cent say they would support it "only if Emirati employees are as qualified and as willing to work for the same hours and pay as an expatriate counterpart". Another 13 per cent say they do not support the programme. Seven per cent said they are "not sure" .

More than half of the companies polled employ nationals. Those that do not have Emiratis in their workforces blame high salary expectations, incorrect or lack of qualifications and an unwillingness to work longer hours among other reasons. Prospective Emirati employees receive extensive training at the Tawteen Council's new offices near the Department of Finance, says Mr al Darmaki, where they go through an interview process so employment counsellors can help them connect with relevant companies.

"First we try to determine whether the qualifications are really required and if the answer is yes then we design programmes for the applicants," Mr al Darmaki says, adding that Tawteen also helps applicants gain the right qualifications by putting them in touch with educational groups. He is also quick to counter claims that Emiratis have been known to lack the required qualifications for jobs they had secured. He points out some companies were keeping their qualification requirements artificially high to make it more difficult for Emiratis to be hired. But that is slowly changing, he says.

"Qualifications are not as big an issue as work experience, which is [what] we are trying to get more of for our applicants. The majority of our population is between 25 and 35 years old. This will disappear over the next five to 10 years but until then we need to get Emiratis the right experience," says Mr al Darmaki. Alongside Emiratisation, education is another major policy objective of the Government. "Whatever the education landscape has been over the past years has brought us to where we are now," Mr Al Darmaki says. "It is a major priority to get the system up to the level where locals can get the jobs being created by the economic growth of the country."

The survey also revealseducation is an issue. Only 24 per cent reply "yes" to the question: "Is the education system properly preparing the local workforce for work in the private sector?" Forty-four per cent say "no" and 32 per cent are "not sure". Almost two-fifths of respondents say local graduates lack mathematics skills and almost half say they lack English skills. Three-quarters of respondents say they lack an "ability to work under pressure".

"We are a learning country," Mr al Darmaki says. "But we are also a young country with a different cultural environment. There are issues to overcome." He says there have been major changes in the involvement of women in the workforce over the past five years. With the potential introduction of a part-time labour law even more women would be able to enter the ranks of the employed. "A part-time labour law will cater to a bigger audience of Emiratis," Mr al Darmaki says. "There may be women who want to work for four hours or people in faraway areas who cannot commute in."

Yet there are still issues to overcome such as foreign employers not fully understanding that the UAE, while a modern economy, has a different culture to most others, particularly those in the West: some Emiratis need more flexible hours because of their responsibilities to their family; salary requirements for Emiratis are often higher because they are usually the sole breadwinner for an extended family.

So far, many Emiratis work in the education and healthcare sectors. But Mr al Darmaki hopes more nationals will join the fledgling industrial and manufacturing sectors. "This will have a huge potential for us," he says. Click here for National/YouGovSiraj economic survey.