Experts say job market is improving

Despite a slow but steady improvement region-wide since 2009, fresh Emirati graduates remain cautious, with some opting for more education.

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DUBAI // As thousands of students across the country graduate from higher institutions, recruitment experts say they are optimistic that the job market is slowly rebounding. Fresh Emirati graduates, however, remain more cautious. Some say that the jobs are out there, but that they would rather pursue higher studies until the market stabilises.

Others say the tough competition means Emirati students have to struggle to stand out - and should contemplate private-sector careers. "There is much more optimism around right now; companies are starting to hire again," said Mike Hynes, the managing partner of Kershaw Leonard, a recruitment agency in the UAE and Qatar. "They took the first three months of this year to see if business was just starting to recover, and they saw that it was."

"The job market in the Middle East has generally witnessed a relatively slow but steady improvement since 2009. The UAE was no exception to this progress," said Amer Zureikat, the regional director of Bayt.com, the online jobs portal. In April, a survey by YouGov Siraj showed that 56 per cent of UAE employers surveyed said they would "definitely" or "probably" hire in the next quarter. The jobs most in demand were for junior executives.

Still, there is not enough momentum to declare the job market free of the effects of the recession that gripped the market last year. The financial crisis changed the job market in the UAE from a "candidate's market", where individuals could demand the salaries they wanted, to an employer's market, Mr Hynes said. "There is optimism, but there is also a high degree of caution," he said.

Employers are now taking much longer to hire, conducting more interviews and testing potential employees, as many multinational companies are still under strict head-count controls, he said. However, many are reinstating their new employee training programmes, which were among the first targets for cutbacks last year. Another sign of recovery was that some workers are even thinking of switching careers. "In 2009, anybody who had a stable job was hanging on to it come what may," Mr Hynes said. Mr Hynes said students should consider taking some time off to reconsider their career choices.

Maitha al Mehairbi, a graduate in public relations and advertising from Zayed University who is an intern at the media zone twofour54, said that although she has been getting vague indicators that she might get hired, she is still looking for job offers suitable to her major. "What I have been told is wherever you want to work, try and land an internship, because it is really difficult to get a job and it is easy for your CV to get ignored if you don't try and get in there somehow and get noticed," she said. "I think the problem with getting a job [is that] there are a lot of graduates out there, and if they don't do something special during their time at college, it's easy for them to get tossed in the rest of the pile." Ms al Mehairbi would prefer a job with the Government or government-related entities because she feels they are more serious in their demand for Emiratis.

But with concerns that the public sector is becoming saturated, young Emiratis should not simply dismiss job opportunities that are less than ideal, she feels. "If you don't find jobs out there, don't sit at home and do nothing," Ms al Mehairbi said. "Go for a private job if you get an offer, and you might find something better there." This advice was particularly crucial because the country has long-term development plans, she added. "That is our generation," she said. "If we're sitting unemployed and without experience - what is that?" Awadh al Braik is more optimistic about his job prospects. The 39-year-old Emirati graduated this semester from Abu Dhabi Men's College with a bachelor's degree in engineering management, having completed a degree in electronics engineering seven years ago. "Jobs are always there, especially for Emiratis who have a useful speciality," Mr al Braik said.

He sought a new degree because he wanted a change in career, and plans to pursue a master's degree. Mr al Braik reckons most of his Emirati colleagues share his optimism because a lot of nationals in engineering programmes are sponsored by companies that offer them internships and jobs once they graduate. He intends to start his own business in addition to working a day job, and insists that the job market now needs more "daring" graduates. "You have to be a leader and learn from extracurricular activities because companies want someone who is daring and can solve problems and has a vision," he said. Ahlam al Bannai also wants to start her own company, but only after completing higher studies. The Dubai Women's College graduate has a higher diploma in mass communications, but wants to complete her bachelor's and master's degrees first.

"I applied for jobs but they are not suitable to my ambitions, I feel like I need to improve myself to get a better position or start a new media production company," she said. Ms al Bannai says she and her colleagues feel optimistic, after a recent career fair held at her college attracted interest from over a dozen employers. Though she would have preferred working in the private sector, she says the public sector now appears increasingly attractive. "For some years I never thought of the public sector as I considered it boring, there is no enjoyable work and you don't improve yourself, and it is very traditional," Ms al Bannai said. "Recently, they seem to be developing and improving." @Email:kshaheen@thenational.ae