Stereotypes of Emirati workers are ‘myths’

Nasif Kayed, managing director of the Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Centre for Cultural Understanding, said: “The stereotype that Emiratis are not willing to work or don’t put in enough effort is not true – it is a myth."

Nasif Kayed teaches Emirati and Arab traditions and customs. He champions the right of all people to work but argues that Emiratis cannot be left behind in their own country. Jeff Topping / The National
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ABU DHABI // The common stereotype of Emirati workers is that they do not put their all into their jobs, they work half days and are interested only in high-salaried positions.

Nasif Kayed, managing director of the Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Centre for Cultural Understanding, said: “The stereotype that Emiratis are not willing to work or don’t put in enough effort is not true – it is a myth.

“Starting from the country’s leadership to the very bottom, we have great examples and success stories. A few bad cases should not be used to form a general opinion. The Emirati is more committed than others. It is their country, so they are less likely to leave you.”

Dr Rabei Wazzeh, executive director of Abu Dhabi University Knowledge Group, and his team set out to prove that such portrayals of jobseekers were false.

“The latest published research was done in 2008 by Dr Ingo Forstenlechner, a professor at UAE University. He conducted a study of 2,267 UAE national students, which was presented at the 2008 Emiratisation conference,” Dr Wazzeh said.

Dr Forstenlechner surveyed the private sector and Emirati graduates. He asked Emiratis why they preferred working for the public sector and asked the private sector why Emiratis were not hired.

“We believe that this study stereotyped Emiratis,” Dr Wazzeh said. “What Dr Forstenlechner showed was that nationals prefer [not] working for the private sector because of the long hours, compensations, low pay ... and mainly because of insecurity. Emiratis felt that Government was more secure. He got the same results from employers.”

Dr Wazzeh said that study had created an “anchoring in the minds of people” that has yet to be challenged.

“Whenever you used to talk to employers in the private sector, they said that Emiratis wanted higher salaries, more vacation time. We wanted to challenge this by either finding that this had changed or to reconfirm it and that the private sector still faces the same challenges.”

Some of these beliefs were proven false and others true.

Previously employers in the private sector stereotyped Emirati jobseekers as lacking skills, education and commitment.

Dr Wazzeh’s study this year, however, found that employers saw Emiratis as high-quality workers, with 80 per cent in high-level positions holding master’s degrees. Employers did say the workers lacked skills.

“This is the excuse they are using today. Previously they said no skills, now they say they have the skills but no experience. The private sector needs to question the assumptions that they have of UAE nationals.”

“I don’t want to belittle the efforts of others,” Mr Kayed said. “We are working very hard. It’s not like we wrote the law and never looked at it. We are all working diligently but there must be further understanding that this is not a punishment or a reward, it is basic human rights.

“You can’t hire based on prejudice or greed, or hire a certain nationality because they are cheaper or share your nationality,” he said.

“Everyone has a right to work and not just Emiratis, but when you specifically neglect Emiratis in the private sector then you are committing a prejudice.”

He said that companies that come to the UAE are well established and well equipped, and had taken decades to grow.

“We have grown in a fraction of that time. Our people need help.”

One stereotype all studies have validated were that benefits remained a top consideration.

This is an issue that the private sector must address, Dr Wezzah said.

“Organisations need to look at career paths and succession plans. When an Emirati joins the company he wants to know where he is going.”

Dr Wezzah said that although a lot was being done to Emiratise the sector, “we are not on target”.

“It will still be a challenge because we have few UAE national jobseekers in the private sector. So it is not realistic for companies to set for themselves a high target for Emiratisation. These should be set carefully and there should be plans to get Emiratis on board.”

He said nationals were not a threat to expatriate workers, nor should they been seen as such.

“The economy of the UAE is expanding and plenty of jobs are being created so there are enough jobs for everybody.”

Dr Wezzah said that he had heard there were 3,000 unemployed Emiratis across the country, but that priorities should be put in order.

“Jobseekers should work for the experience, not for the money, at the start of their career. Money will come later.”

Emiratis must understand that they are the builders and owners of the country, he said.