Government attacks Emiratisation laggards

Companies at fault for lack of nationals in private sector jobs, panel says, as employers say accusations are unfair.

ABU DHABI // Private firms are failing to live up to their Emiratisation commitments and are unable to keep disenchanted nationals, government officials said yesterday. Some private employers rejected the comments as unfair. Others conceded that the floundering efforts to increase the number of Emiratis in private companies constituted a significant challenge to employers, employees and policy makers.

Senior officials argued that private companies often hired Emiratis as quota-fillers, following the letter of the law but not its spirit. Many employers, the officials said, were not really committed to hiring Emiratis; rejected a large percentage of national applicants; were secretive in their dealings with the Abu Dhabi Tawteen Council (ADTC); had biased stereotypes of Emiratis; and were dithering in their response to jobseekers.

The comments came at a panel discussion on Emiratis in the private sector at the Emiratisation Employers Forum 2010. The event ended yesterday. Rashed al Marshoudi, the director of employer relations at the ADTC, the body responsible for the Emiratisation policy, described a lack of commitment by private-sector employers towards hiring nationals. Many would not show up to meetings with groups of prospective Emirati employees that the council brought together, Mr al Marshoudi said.

Employers often rejected job applications without giving reasons and refused to give detailed job descriptions which would help to match nationals with the skillsets employers were seeking, he said. "There is little engagement, little commitment from employers," Mr al Marshoudi said said. Employers were the main reason that Emiratis did not stay long in private jobs, said Ahmad Badr, the director of the Abu Dhabi University Knowledge Group, the commercial arm of the federal institute that provides educational and career consulting to Emiratis.

Dr Badr said most organisations that hired a national "put him at the back of the office" and gave him no assignments, then came to see him as "an obstacle" with no career paths. These organisations were simply hiring Emiratis as place holders to fulfil quota requirements imposed by the Government, Dr Badr said. Many also had stereotypes of Emirati employees that were often not representative of real jobseekers, he said.

"I was surprised to find they are really keen. Most of them are keen to work, whether in the private sector or in the public sector, and they will work even for Dh2,000 (US$540)" a month, Dr Badr said. Companies also needed to be more flexible in their academic requirements and pay more attention to the needs of the market, said Muneeb Kazim, the executive director of strategy, planning and policy at the ADTC.

Almost 80 per cent of Emirati job-seekers in the ADTC's database do not have a college education. Despite the education shortcomings, Dr Kazim said nationals had to seek jobs in the private sector. While 80 per cent of the Emirati workforce were in government jobs, just 11 per cent of all jobs in the UAE were in the public sector, and it could not match private-sector growth. "Do you want to see a diverse private sector or a fully Emiratised public sector? You don't want Emiratis to be isolated," Dr Kazim said.

Syed Bukhari, a manager at an insurance agency, said many of the criticisms of the private sector were not fair. He said private companies were entitled to vet potential candidates, and attention had to be paid to recruitment and hierarchical structures at private companies rather than try to rush them into accepting Emiratis. "Normal recruitment isn't just about locals," he said. "Private companies take one to two months to look at a new hire. It's a fair enough time and they have the right to evaluate the candidate."

Private companies wanted to hire Emiratis because they offered advantages in visa requirements and other costs, he said. But there was no centralised way to look for potential Emirati workers. One senior executive at an oil company, who asked not to be named, said it was good that the ADTC chose to air its concerns. "There are clearly some gaps," he said. "It's a wake-up call." The petroleum sector has the highest Emiratisation levels, at 18 per cent.

The oil executive admitted there were shortcomings within companies that Emiratis had to deal with, such as easy integration in the workplace. While some Emiratis conformed to negative stereotypes, it was only natural in a "society where wealth is prevalent". Abdulmuttalib al Hashimi, the managing director of Next Level Management, an Emiratisation consultancy, said "Challenges are not just with employers. It's also with the educational system and the employees, as well as policy and regulations."

For that reason, the Government's criticisms were both justified and not justified, he said. "Yes, there are employers who are not totally committed to Emiratisation and apply what we call window dressing and ghost employees to fill the quotas. "That's why there is low retention. There is nothing special about Emiratis in particular, you need to set a path for them and to encourage them."

Employers might be wary of hiring Emiratis, Mr al Hashimi said, because of stereotypes that they want to work short hours for high salaries. Many companies recognised the benefits of hiring Emiratis, he said, because they often had a deeper knowledge of the marketplace and could give their employers an advantage over the competition. Mr al Hashimi said the Government could help jobseekers by offering subsidies to private employers that hire Emiratis, or by giving private firms breaks in licensing or visa fees.