ABU DHABI // Compulsory military service will help to curb the rising rate of Emirati youth unemployment, which new figures put at 8 per cent, recruitment experts say.
Hamza Zaouali, managing director of Dubai recruitment company Iris Executives, said mandatory national service would boost the employability of young Emiratis, particularly in the private sector.
“In countries that have been exercising compulsory national service, the government has a strong shaping power in the lives of youth,” said Mr Zaouali, whose company specialises in Emiratisation.
“It acts as a big brother that teaches youth discipline, teamwork, hard work and good attitudes. I suspect most youth will come back with a different outlook on life.
“In the long term, I think the market will benefit from more mature Emirati youth, with real-life experience after their national service, which should make them more in line with market needs.”
Numbers released this week by Statistics Centre Abu Dhabi show the rate of young Emiratis aged 15 to 25 who are not studying or employed full-time rose to 8 per cent in 2012 from 6.4 per cent in 2011.
The draft bill for mandatory military service was passed by the FNC this week and will go to the President, Sheikh Khalifa, for approval.
The law requires military service for all Emirati men aged between 18 and 30. It is optional for women.
It will come into force as early as the end of this year. Those who have finished secondary school will serve for nine months, while those who have not will serve two years.
Scad broke down jobless rates for young Emirati women and men. For men, they were 7.3 per cent, 4.1 per cent and 5.5 per cent for 2005, 2011 and 2012. For women they were 15.6, 16.5 and 18 per cent.
Zack Abdi, managing director of Provectus, said there was a lack of realistic employment opportunities for young Emirati women, who he said constitute 84 per cent of graduates.
“What kind of job are you going to give them?” Mr Abdi asked. “They’re not going to be truck driver, they’re not going to be a security guard, they’re not going to be a door-to-door salesperson.
“There needs to be more specialist training, particularly for women, in innovative or technical fields. Otherwise unemployment rates will continue to rise.”
The figures form a section of an employment report released by Scad, and are low compared with international standards.
In the UK, young jobless people are referred to as “Neets” – not in education, employment or training.
The most recent figures suggest that 14.4 per cent of those aged between 16 and 24 in the UK are in that category.
But the problem in the UAE needs to be addressed promptly, Mr Zaouali said.
“Emirati youth are the future of the country. When they are unemployed, their situation is more sensitive than experienced Emiratis that are unemployed,” he said.
“This is because a gap after school shows a delay in acquiring skills and experience in a fast-moving economy. And this makes these unemployed youth more and more difficult to employ as the time goes by.
“With no experience to offer, their situation can become very precarious and this would be exacerbated if they do not have a degree and do not speak English.”
The rise in the number of jobless youths comes despite a decline from a high of 9.3 per cent in 2005.
It may have been at least partly due to problems from the global financial downfall, which began in late 2008 and made private companies cautious about hiring.
David Jones, managing director of Talent Enterprise in Dubai, said national service would have knock-on benefits for unemployed youths.
“There is a concern in ensuring there are more employment opportunities in the private sector, because the public sector is already quite saturated,” Mr Jones said.
“The Government is trying to think about how they can make young nationals more attractive to private-sector employers.”
American University of Sharjah student Ahmed Al Ghourair, 19, who attended a military school in Al Ain, said military service would benefit youth.
“Before attending the school, I was not used to cleaning my room or even making my bed, we were used to having maids do it,” Mr Al Ghourair said.
“However, afterwards, I could do it myself. It made me more responsible and more disciplined, especially now that I’m in university. Being more disciplined can definitely help you in future jobs.
“I do not only think that we should have mandatory military service in the UAE, but they should expose young people to other civil service jobs.
“As you know, the UAE population is made up of mostly expats. If, God forbid, something happens, we need to make sure that we can take care of ourselves and our country.
“How can we do that if we don’t know about simple jobs that are usually done by expats? I will do my mandatory service after I finish university.”
Ahmed Al Suwaidi, 19, attends the Higher Colleges of Technology in Dubai.
“I think that the mandatory military service in the UAE has nothing to do with the future of finding a job directly, however, it will impact a man’s personality,” Mr Al Suwaidi said.
“If I want to work, I will work and I won’t be late to my job. The problem is when there is another source of money, some think ‘why should I work?’ Some people have to have jobs whether or not they are responsible or disciplined.
“I think that the mandatory military service will give young Emiratis that sense of patriotism to want to make them serve their country in different fields, and not just the discipline.”
Total employment in Abu Dhabi increased from 786,738 in 2005 to 1,577,013 in 2012, an average annual increase of 10.44 per cent.
The number of Emirati employees rose from 75,518 in 2005 to 122,915 in 2012, an average annual increase of 7.21 per cent.
The sector with the highest number of expatriate workers is the construction sector, on 32.5 per cent, while 86.4 per cent of Emiratis are employed in the government sector.
The proportion of young people aged 15 to 25 not studying and not in full-time work rose from 6.4 per cent in 2011 to 8 per cent in 2012.
* Additional reporting by Dana Moukhallati