In the spacious surroundings of the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre, watched by 3,000 Emirati university students, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed stood up to deliver a harsh truth. “If you want to participate in shaping the future then you need to stop thinking of a government job,” the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation said. The days of comfortable government jobs were coming to an end, he signalled. By the time children born this year join the workforce in two decades, he said, three-quarters of the jobs available today will be obsolete.
For many of those in the hall, these will be exciting words. The world is changing as never before and young people, particularly in the UAE, are in a prime position to compete globally: education, technology and access to information are easier today than ever before. New fields of study are opening up and with it the possibility of jobs that, mere years ago, were literally unimaginable.
There will, however, of course, be those who are discomfited by Sheikh Abdullah’s words. And it is for those in particular that he delivered them. The truth is that there are some – perhaps only a few, but certainly too many – who see a public sector job with a comfortable salary as entitlement. Despite the change taking place all around them, and despite the call from the leadership for young people to take the reins of the future (the UAE, noted Sheikh Abdullah, has its sights set on a colony on Mars), they persist in seeking a guaranteed salary from the Government.
Perhaps a better way to look at this is through the lens of contribution. Writing for our pages yesterday, Emirati writer and strategic studies expert Jamal Al Suwaidi quoted a line from Sheikh Khalifa, the president, who said that true citizenship “does not consist of systematically taking: rather, it entails self-sacrifice for the sake of nation”. This was in the context of the Year of Giving. But giving is also about contributing and what Sheikh Abdullah was getting across is that Emirati youth need to think more about contributing.
It is certainly true that the UAE provides its citizens with opportunities (through education and a high standard of living), but those opportunities are offered as a way to get citizens to contribute more. Giving back to the country doesn’t only mean volunteering. Giving back can mean taking the benefits and opportunities of citizenship and using them to start businesses and enterprises, creating jobs for others and creating value for the country.This advances the national interest. Shaping the future would be a valuable contribution to make.