Are local job-seekers too tense?

Some young Emiratis think they would have no job security or benefits if they worked in the private sector.

Maha Al Kaabi, a business student at Al Ain Women's College, help to gather information about locals and the private sector.
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ABU DHABI // Some young Emiratis think they would have no job security or benefits if they worked in the private sector, a belief that may be hampering the struggling Emiratisation process, according to researchers at UAE University in Al Ain. The researchers questioned 60 people aged 18 to 23 years - 20 students, 20 employed graduates and 20 unemployed graduates - to learn more about their job-seeking attitudes amid Government efforts to place and keep Emiratis in private-sector jobs, such as the recent ban on firing Emirati staff except in cases of serious misconduct.

Most of the Emiratis who were questioned had little confidence in their ability to thrive in private companies and were "overwhelmed" at having to compete for jobs against applicants from all over the world, the researchers said. The respondents ranked employee rights, job security, working hours and advancement opportunities as more important than salary level, although their salary expectations were also higher than market rates. They said the worst aspect of private-sector employment was the low wages. About a quarter of the interviewees said they would rather wait for an uncertain job in the public sector rather than take a private-sector job immediately.

The researchers attributed such anxiety to Emiratis' minimal exposure to the private sector in their education and private lives. Just 13,000 Emiratis hold jobs with private companies, constituting about 0.4 per cent of the private-sector workforce and about 1.3 per cent of the Emirati population. "The whole system needs to be changed in terms of exposure to the private sector and instilling confidence," said Dr Ingo Forstenlechner, assistant professor at the College of Business and Economics at UAE University. He is the principal investigator under an Emirates Foundation grant to look into the issues surrounding Emiratisation.

"Emiratis need more exposure to the reality, then they will feel more competitive," he said. "There are many Emiratis who don't even have a friend or relative working in private employment so their perceptions of it are founded on rumours, horror stories. It is prejudice based on lack of knowledge." Abdullah al Darmaki, the executive director of the Abu Dhabi Emiratisation Council, said more encouragement from the Government would change negative Emirati attitudes towards private-sector employment. Mr al Darmaki, is a former executive at Bawadi, the Dubai leisure development, and Abu Dhabi National Oil Company.

He cited a recent deal between the Mubadala Development Company, a government investment firm, and the US microchip company AMD to manufacture chips in the UAE, as a prime example of a private-sector employment opportunity that needed to be promoted among young Emiratis. "We need to do the right campaigning," he said. "When I took over this body there was no marketing or communication department. We need to speak to Emiratis and educate them about the private sector. Now we are beginning to promote industries, do road shows and design programmes."

Many Emiratis will never get jobs in the public sector because it is already fully staffed, the researchers said. Dr Forstenlechner said that the old arrangement of Emiratis' working in the civil service and foreigners filling the private sector was perfect until now. "But now Emiratis have to go into the private sector because the public sector is already saturated," he said. "This is the one thing that may make or break the future of this country. Half the population is below the age of 15. If they do not find meaningful work, how can social and economic stability be maintained?"

The researchers suggested that Emiratis gain work experience with private companies while they are still students, as well as government subsidies to raise private-sector salaries. Dr Mohammed al Waqfi, part of the research team, said: "There is a disconnect in pay between the public and private sectors, and it is harming Emiratisation. Public-sector wages are not only driven by productivity because an element of the pay is basically intended to improve standards of living for Emiratis."

Big monopolies and companies that bid for contracts awarded by the Government can and should be held to quota targets for the number of Emirati staff they hire, Dr Al Waqfi said, although he conceded that smaller companies may not be able to afford the increased costs that come with hiring Emirati staff and that government help might be needed. But Mr Al Darmaki said such help was available. "An Emirati in the private sector is entitled to get a pension, for example, and if a private-sector company comes to me and says we can't afford to pay the pension contributions for an Emirati employee, then we can financially support this," he said.