Students prefer jobs in public sector

Young say working for State offers better pay, more security and more time off than working for private companies.

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DUBAI // As Sultan Ali browsed among the stalls during yesterday's careers fair at Dubai Men's College, he was thinking along the same lines as most of the other 2,000 Emirati students expected to visit. Whatever the merits of working for a private company, he wanted a job in the public sector.

"I prefer the government sector," said Mr Ali, who is studying applied business technology. "I feel more comfortable psychologically. They give you Friday and Saturday off, they give you good wages, pay for your rent and health insurance." To many young Emiratis, public sector jobs remain the most attractive because they offer more security, shorter working hours and longer holidays. "In the private sector, you work more, your salary is small and you have a lot of pressure on you," Mr Ali said. "In the public sector, you get holidays as you want."

It appears that most of his contemporaries have the same attitude. A recent government study found that while 96 per cent of students at the women's higher colleges of technology intended to work upon graduation, only 11 per cent wanted private sector jobs. Yesterday's fair was set up for Emirati students to meet both public and private sector employers. Among them were representatives of the police, the municipality, banks, Topaz Energy and Marine, Arabian Radio Network, Dubai Airport Free Zone, Dubai Electricity and Water Authority, du and Etisalat. Job security was high on the students' agenda.

"When the financial crisis hit, a lot of companies fired their employees," said Mohammed Salahuddine, a second-year college student. "But the Government is different. They'll never do that." Mike Hynes, the managing partner of Kershaw Leonard, a UAE and Qatar-based human resources consultancy, said public jobs were attractive because "historically, the government sector is seen as a job for life. There was little chance of losing that job."

The low percentage of Emiratis in the private sector made the workplace more daunting, with some new graduates preferring to mingle with members of their own culture, Mr Hynes said. In addition, the public sector was often associated with shorter hours and longer holidays. This meant that a government job was "seen as an easier life, with a perception that there was more prestige attached to it", Mr Hynes said.

Omar Hassan, a business student who spent two years as an intern at a bank, said one of the main reasons he no longer wanted a job in that field was that he had to work on Saturdays. "The one-day holiday keeps all locals away from the banks, and I'm one of them," he said. "You go home on Thursday and then the next day is the Friday prayers and that's it, you start thinking about the next day's work.

"You can't think about visiting the family, going on a trip, nothing." Mr Hynes argued that it was "terribly unfair" for inexperienced Emirati students to be expected to conform to a tough work ethic in profit-oriented companies. One way was for companies to have a clear career path for advancement and pay special attention to salaries and the positioning of locals in the hierarchy, because many Emirati graduates aspired to be managers. But Emiratis needed to adjust their expectations from the private sector, Mr Hynes said.

"They need to be realistic and have a timeframe," he said. "There's nothing wrong with wanting to be a marketing manager, but it won't happen straight away." Not all students at yesterday's fair spoke against the private sector. Abdullah Raqaba, a management student, said it was more diverse and suited entrepreneurial students. "It's a different environment," he said. "They mingle with more people than government workers. As Emiratis, we can't all work in the government sector."

Peter Milner, Dubai Men's College's employer relations co-ordinator, said it was trying to develop more ambitious career paths by encouraging students to take up work placements in both the public and private sectors. "There was a reluctance to go to the private sector, but it's changing," he said. However, concerns remained among students. "The Government is better than the private sector," said Hamad al Bastaki, a health and environment student who wants to work for the municipality.

"In the private sector, you can lose your job if the company goes bankrupt. But the Government is constant."