Young people find a good home in the UAE. The country has some of the Gulf’s best schools and universities and its own Minister of State for Youth, Shamma Al Mazrui. Now, as part of a series of major labour reforms, over-15s can go one step further and, for the first time in the country’s history, take a part-time job.
On a practical level, the reform has plenty of economic benefits: Young people can start earning and be exposed to workplaces earlier, preparing them for full-time employment down the line. For their part, employers will have access to an energetic, flexible labour force that can work in peak seasons at less cost than full-time, older workers. Young employees are expected to be particularly beneficial to the hospitality sector, given the fact they will often be working during the evening. This part of the economy was particularly hard hit by the pandemic, so it will welcome any help.
Speaking to The National, Tapan Vaidya, chief executive of Papa John’s Pizza in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, confirmed as much: “This is a real boon for our industry. I used to wait on tables as a teen myself and that is what made me fall in love with the restaurant business.”
Like Mr Vaidya, some of the UAE’s new young workers may find their vocation early on. But not everyone will “fall in love” with their first job, nor will the majority make a great deal of money out of it.
That is part of the point. The most profound benefits go far deeper and will be applicable to all. The exposure a young employee gets is to more than just a profession. It is to the entire experience and reality of working life, with all the opportunities and challenges it brings. The hope is that, even if a first job does not reveal a vocation, the first payslip, group of colleagues, appraisal or office party will be quite enough to make the experience educational. For many people, their first job is among the most memorable of their lives, if not the most.
The move will also give UAE teenagers the opportunity to become part of a dwindling group of young people in the developed world with this valuable experience. In 2019, rates of teen employment in the US fell by almost 20 per cent on levels in 2000. This is thought to be down to a number of factors, including children spending more time on schoolwork. While education must remain the priority, part-time, flexible work complements the development of young people, giving them a supplementary education in money-management, negotiation and self-confidence, to name just a few benefits.
Today, work for over-15s also comes with the timely benefit of bringing young people back into physical spaces after the pandemic confined them to a world of virtual education and socialising.
Overall, the change fits into the goals of wider labour reforms: to adapt the world of work to modern trends, with a focus on empowering and encouraging individual talent across all sectors, particularly in future-focussed ones. As the UAE economy continues to grow and adapt, preparing the next generation of workers is both vital and exciting.