ABU DHABI // Emiratis should be encouraged to study a wider range of subjects at school and university if they are to expand their career aspirations beyond government jobs, experts say.
Too many students are choosing business and finance courses at university before following friends and family into the public sector, instead of pursuing a broader range of science, technology, engineering and mathematics studies that could lead to careers with private companies.
“Students need to hear more about the availability of programmes and prepare themselves for private sector jobs,” said Dr Warren Fox, head of higher education at Dubai’s Knowledge and Human Development Authority.
“This has to take place at the school level, way before college.”
Dr Fox said the mindset of Emiratis expecting a government job needed to change. “Emiratis have friends and family in public sector jobs. The emphasis isn’t there.”
In Dubai, 70 per cent of students opt to study business or business-related subjects even though the 30 or so universities in the emirate offer a choice of more than 400 academic programmes. This is despite the Government’s push for Stem studies.
Opportunities available through the Government for Emiratis choosing Stem subjects must be grabbed, said Sanjeev Verma, founder of Intelligent Partners, which guides students from high school through to university.
“Most kids just aren’t aware of the fact there is all this support they can get from the government,” he said.
“They must leverage this and schools have a role to play in making these subjects more accessible and less intimidating.”
But until companies diversify their employment criteria the demand for business and finance graduates will not change, Mr Verma said.
“If employers start looking at subjects more liberally, people will be encouraged and it will trickle down. The universities will start providing these courses.”
Hamza Zaouli, head of Iris Executives, a recruiter specialising in Emiratisation, said the private sector was often regarded as a less secure and more exposed for Emiratis, because they would often be in the minority.
Mr Zaouli suggested making internships at private companies compulsory for Emiratis during their studies to broaden the appeal of working in the sector.
“This would play a role in preparing younger Emiratis to working environments in the private sector and be inspired to continue so accordingly, or at least have more choice,” he said.
“I truly believe the future of Emiratisation is in the private sector.
“Many of our private sector clients tell us they are deprived of Emirati talent because of their preference for careers in government. As a recruiter, this is truly challenging.”
In a speech on Tuesday, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, told students: “If you want to participate in shaping the future then you need to stop thinking of a government job.
“No other country in the region supports youth-led projects like the UAE. It is one of the easiest countries to set up and run a business, so start your own business and corporations.”
Prof Tod Laursen, head of Khalifa University, which offers mostly Emirati students classes in topics from space science to genetics, said Sheikh Abdullah’s remarks were “spot on”.
“In Khalifa University we do have a certain advantage in that our students are in a highly challenging academic environment and have already made the commitment to work hard and improve their prospects.
“I think the next step is to convince our best and brightest that their goal should not only to be job seekers, but job creators.
“This is what I really liked about the Sheikh’s remarks. It is a mindset, as well as an ambition, that our young people need to take on board. This is a very important challenge for our universities to meet.”
On Wednesday, director general of the Abu Dhabi Education Council Dr Ali Al Nuaimi told students at the Mohammed bin Zayed Majlis for Future Generations to be more competitive and take more difficult courses at university.
“We need to provide a driving force to take this progress forward and this cannot be done without innovation, creativity, perseverance and diligence,” he said.