It’s time to tap the reservoir of talent that’s not in jobs right now

Peter Hatherley-Green on the huge untapped reservoir of Emirati talent that is not engaged in the workforce

The rate of unemployment of a reservoir of Emirati talent is increasing. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
Powered by automated translation

There is a huge untapped reservoir of Emirati talent not yet engaged in the economy. They are bilingual university graduates, many with postgraduate qualifications in business, communications and media, education, technology, natural and health sciences, humanities and social sciences.

Due to sociocultural factors, they often prefer not to join the workforce, though if they do, the public sector and some areas of the private sector are usually selected.

Unfortunately, the rate of unemployment of this reservoir is increasing as more and more graduate from universities.

For many in this group, the choice to work or not to work reflects social norms and values. In many cases, it comes down to the usual outcome of a happy marriage – babies and children demand a lot of parental care and attention. With a dearth of crèches in the workplace still a major issue, the choice to remain at home becomes an obvious one.

Of course, it wasn’t always like this.

In pre-oil days, their role in the traditional economy based upon activities dictated by the seasons was significant as they assumed great responsibilities during the long periods of time their spouses worked away from home.

Some of these responsibilities included labour-intensive work on the date farms where they often organised the harvest, they twice-daily fetched water and gathered firewood, and they were partly involved in fishing, spreading the fish out to dry and even sometimes mending the nets.

It is even reported that this group in Ras Al Khaimah took up arms alongside the rest of the community against a British invasion force early in the 19th century.

Their contribution earned a high status in society. The reputation and honour of the spouse was often the result of their righteous behaviour, fortitude and bearing.

In many ways, nothing much has changed. This group continues to provide the glue that holds a family and a community together, caring for children and supporting one other in difficult times.

In the modern UAE, more than 70 per cent of the university students come from this group who are more likely to go on and complete a university degree, often to master’s level. More than 80 per cent of Emirati graduates come from this group.

Unlike their great-grandparents and grandparents, they tend to shy away from labour-intensive employment in the modern UAE though some have joined the air force to become war-tested fighter pilots or have found their way on to the country’s race tracks as racing car drivers.

Old beliefs still prevail not only among the group in question but also in people who may be able to assist them into employment.

They ask, “what kind of job are you going to give them? They’re not going to be a lorry driver, they’re not going to be a security guard, and they’re not going to be a door-to-door salesperson.”

With limiting beliefs such as these, it is little wonder this group has the highest rate of unemployment in the country.

As the country moves inexorably towards a non-oil dependent economy, everyone needs to have not only the opportunities to add value to the national wealth through employment but also to possess the internal motivation to do so.

Given that cultural norms tend to push this group away from positions in the private sector, and the openings in the public sector decrease each year, what can be done to encourage this highly educated group of people in society to contribute in meaningful ways to the national economy?

Due to increasing numbers of nuclear families among the more traditional extended family structures, members of this group may often feel cut off, torn between the need and the desire to work, disenfranchised, and simply lonely. However, as most of them are very computer literate and are very savvy in using social media, an opportunity to work from home appears to have presented itself.

Armed with a laptop and an educated and inquiring mind, connected to and curious about the world, and motivated to become financially independent, this group has enormous potential to shake up the SME sector in the Emirates.

Why stop there? I see like-minded people from this group meeting and working together from home by forming small working collectives. Here they could create real synergy, working alongside both private and public sector organisations using online communication and conferencing tools such as Zoom to collaborate on exciting projects.

In recent weeks, a committee has been set up to review the conditions for this group in the workplace across the UAE.

Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak said that a prime focus is to “activate the Gender Balance Index across various sectors to enhance and promote gender equality through increased participation.”

I am sure some of you have already guessed to which group I am referring. They are Emirati women.

Dr Peter J Hatherley-Greene is director of learning at Emarise