Why we have to smash a few workforce stereotypes

The Federal Government has taken steps to increase the percentage of Emiratis working in the private sector for years. Pawan Singh / The National
The Federal Government has taken steps to increase the percentage of Emiratis working in the private sector for years. Pawan Singh / The National

For more than a decade, the Federal Government has taken steps to increase the percentage of Emiratis working in the private sector. Companies have variously been threatened with penalties and offered subsidies and incentives. And yet, no matter how many solutions have been suggested, Emiratis account for less than two per cent of the private sector workforce nationwide.

In 2005, the Ministry of Labour imposed a quota system on private sector companies, backed by penalties for non-compliance. Most failed to reach their targets.

The difficulties in recruiting and retaining Emiratis led to companies taking drastic measures. Anything and everything was done to avoid being singled out as a company that did not meet its quotas.

As the problem persisted, it became clear that compulsion was not the solution. In 2009, Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak said: “There will be no obligation on the private sector to appoint nationals. Some countries enforce a policy whereby the private sector is obliged to appoint nationals. But experience has shown that such enforcement is not a success.”

The following year it was announced that the Government would start offering subsidies to encourage companies to recruit and retain Emirati staff.

This ensured some progress, but the number of Emiratis in the private sector remained low.

When the push for Emiratisation in the private sector began, experts in the field claimed it was simply an issue of supply and demand.

There were not, analysts suggested, enough skilled Emiratis to handle the workload. Others claimed it was a matter of the public sector being more attractive to Emiratis because it offered more job security, higher salaries, more holidays and career growth. But with the improvement in education and government support for private sector salaries, the same argument does not hold water today.

Over the past 10 years, the number of university graduates has dramatically increased.

Last month, The National reported that enrolment in higher education of Emiratis increased by 48.6 per cent between 2008 and 2014. And yet, young Emirati graduates have been vocal about their struggle to find their first jobs in the private sector.

Perhaps the solution lies in changing the mindset of senior executives in the private sector. Much has to do with the stereotype of Emiratis being perceived as more expensive or more difficult to retain and manage.

This may have been true in the past, when Emiratis were new to the private sector, but it does not apply now.

And yet the stereotypes still live on in the minds of those responsible for recruitment in the private sector. A visit to any top university will reveal some of the most talented Emirati minds. These students are ready and waiting for an opportunity to contribute in the workplace, bringing with them their education and their knowledge of the culture and country.

As Sheikh Nahyan said, no company can be forced to hire Emiratis. And though previous experiences may have hardened the opinions of private sector executives, if they overlook the talent and knowledge available, they will be missing an opportunity.

Such shortsightedness may also threaten the success of a company's strategy further down the line and may, unwittingly, hand the advantage to those organisations that do properly support the development of Emirati talent. After all, such skills and knowledge cannot be readily imported from abroad.

Taryam Al Subaihi is a political and social commentator who specialises in media and communications

On Twitter: @TaryamAlSubaihi

Published: August 4, 2015 04:00 AM

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