Over the years, I have often wondered why some companies in the UAE recruit employees from abroad, rather than people who are already here – or those who were here and may want to return, having already amassed years of experience in the UAE.
As the economy grows, there will be a continual need to recruit more people. Those who arrive in the UAE to take up a job for the first time generally, in their early days, have little idea about the country, even if they have skills that are well-matched to particular jobs. They do, naturally, learn along the way.
But people who have lived here for years and those who have grown up here don’t need to start learning about UAE society in the same way. They are accustomed to life in the Emirates and can adapt easily to multicultural environments. They have a network of connections, too, useful for their private lives, but also, often, of value to their employers.
This debate about hiring people with local experience instead of newcomers has been around for years. As the country approaches its 50th birthday, many overseas citizens have spent years or decades here. Some being the second generation in their family to do so; a few even from the third. That factor, I feel, is of particular relevance as the economy begins to pick up, as we work through the effects of Covid-19.
Countless jobs were lost last year as a result of the pandemic, as they were the world over. Many residents felt they had no choice but to return to their home countries. Many thousands of others have stayed, hoping to find employment that would permit them to stay on in what has become their home.
I noted a comment on social media last week by a long-term Dubai resident, an overseas citizen, who obviously shares the same view. “Why,” she asked, “are companies in the UAE still hiring from outside the country, when there are so many skilled and experienced people here desperately looking for work? An onus on getting people already here back into employment should be a priority.”
There have been initiatives from the government that have helped to ameliorate the situation, like the framing of new regulations that have made it easier for people to start businesses from home, without the need to rent office space or become freelancers.
There are various organisations and schemes to help Emiratis seeking employment, which is right and proper. Tackling unemployment among Emiratis has to be a priority.
These have been important steps. But even so, many people are simply not equipped to venture out on their own.
I wonder, though, if there is also scope for some kind of register to support resident expatriates who are seeking employment. At the moment, most depend on recruitment agencies, advertisements and word of mouth.
In some cases, jobs that are advertised, to meet the perceived need for an open recruitment process, are already promised to someone – a friend? a relative? – who may not have the right experience or qualifications. This leads to frustration and is a waste of time.
To be clear, this is not to say people from overseas should not be hired. Everyone who is a long-time resident was also, after all, a newcomer once. And a proper register, however it is managed, would not prevent companies from continuing to hire highly skilled newcomers from overseas. There will always be room for expertise. But such a register would, perhaps, help companies to become more aware of talent available locally. It would also make sense for companies as, in most cases, it is cheaper to recruit locally, anyway.
Thousands of people who had jobs in the UAE have gone home since the beginning of the pandemic. Many of those, from all levels, may want to return as the economy picks up. Perhaps a clearing house of some kind for applicants would be of value?
The initial focus, though, should be on those seeking employment who are already here and have valuable local experience.
As employment in different sectors of the economy picks up, it makes sense to prioritise them. They have displayed a past commitment to our economy and to our society. They deserve a chance to be able to contribute yet again to our future.
Peter Hellyer is a UAE cultural historian and columnist for The National