The UAE's local workforce is its greatest asset

New measures seek to increasing the number of locals in the private sector

The Expo 2020 sign at Al Qudra Lakes. Uliana Shepotynnyk
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One of the most remarkable aspects of the UAE's growth since its foundation in 1971 is the pace at which it has occurred. On the country's golden jubilee, the strategy behind maintaining this rate of development is evolving to match modern times.

On Sunday, the second round of “Projects of the 50”, a collection of initiatives and programmes to help develop and diversify the country over the next 50 years, was announced.

The opening list, unveiled at the beginning of September, in large part focused the work and priorities of the UAE's government, including investment in industry and relaxed visa regulations. It also highlighted the aims of the country's foreign policy, as well as ongoing efforts to boost social cohesion.

Sunday’s announcement focused on the country's private sector. Financial, legal, energy, retail, tourism and healthcare entities have been developing in the UAE for years, employing many from the UAE’s local communities as well as foreign residents. Now there is an added emphasis on getting more UAE nationals employed in the private sector.

At the centre is a new recruitment plan to spend Dh24 billion ($6.53bn) on securing 75,000 Emiratis rewarding private sector jobs. In five years, private companies in the UAE should have a workforce that is at least 10 per cent Emirati. This is a confirmation of the private sector's growing role in creating sustainable economic growth.

The policy will be supported by incentives. Some were geared towards getting young people opportunities. Graduate salaries will be topped up by up to Dh8,000 during the first year of work, new apprentice programmes are being created, as well as a scheme to help with the cost of child care.

This is taking place alongside the government's ongoing investment in education and universities. NYU Abu Dhabi is celebrating its 10-year anniversary this month and Emirati institutions are reaching out across the world to improve teaching. Zayed University is working with American innovator Minerva Project to diversify degree programmes that prepare students for an ever-changing global jobs market.

For commercial activities to thrive, they must be accompanied by a focus on education with practical skills. One recent announcement on this front is a plan to institute a work permit for teenagers to gain valuable employment experience, as long as it does not interfere with their education. Part time, more informal employment in adolescence is often part of a young person's holistic education abroad. Allowing it in the UAE means a new generation will have the chance to learn about employment before they enter the workplace permanently.

Other plans will concentrate on entrepreneurial opportunities for those at a later stage in their professional lives. Some federal government employees will be incentivised to take early retirement to start businesses, with financial support to help them do so.

Speaking to The National, leading Emirati banker Saeed Al Awar described these new policies as exemplifying the UAE moving from using one of its most important resources of the past 50 years, oil, to an even more important asset for country: its local workforce. The journey so far has been about changing a union of seven emirates into a commercial haven for the region, a feat it managed mere decades after its foundation. For the next 50 years to be as remarkable, the government is hedging its bets on a more diverse economy by a renewed investment in its citizens.

Published: September 14, 2021, 3:00 AM