Challenges lie ahead for Omani jobseekers as nationalisation drive takes off

Analysts say Oman’s latest drive to reserve more sectors for nationals may cause a shortage of foreigners’ much-needed skills

Omani graduates queue up in the Job Exhibition in Muscat. Saleh Al-Shaibany for The National

Changes to Oman’s hiring laws may leave the sultanate with a skills shortage, experts said.

Oman's Ministry of Manpower on Monday ordered firms to reserve a host of jobs for Omanis in financial sectors such as accounting, auditing, brokerage, insurance, money exchange and property.

The contracts of expatriates who currently occupy these positions will not be renewed and new positions in these categories will be available only to Omanis, according to the ministry’s order.

Labour Minister Mahad Baouin said in comments carried by ONA, the state news agency, that the employment initiatives announced this month should provide up to 20,000 vacancies to Omanis.

The ministry also plans to house 80 per cent of the registered job applicants, Mr Baouin said.

It will encourage young Omanis to enrol in training programmes and acquire more skills, he said.
But market analysts expressed pessimism over the feasibility of such plans, warning of consequences for the small country's economy.

Oman’s rating in all international agencies’ reports has been in constant decline with a negative outlook in the past few years, owing to the fall in oil prices and the pandemic.

"We understand the need to employ Omanis, but there are certain steps that have to be made first," Loai Al Jashmi, a recruitment specialist, told The National.

“Some of these jobs are very specialised and we cannot just have expatriates go and vacate them all of a sudden. We need to recruit Omanis first and train them for such positions beforehand.”

The Omanisation drive started in 2000 as part of the country’s Vision 2020 economic initiative. A number of occupations were reserved for nationals at the time, but rapid negative global developments forced the government to retain its expatriate population.

“We now have another vision, the 2040, but this time with oil prices that are a fraction of what they were back when the 2020 vision was announced,” Mr Salim Al Qahtani, an economic analyst, said.

“The new Omanisation drive might work since we have thousands of graduates with no jobs. But there are challenges. Expatriates have wide and long experience, while our young graduates do not,” he said.

More than 80,000 Omani graduates are currently looking for jobs, according to Ministry of Manpower figures, while about 300,000 expatriates left Oman in 2020. Private companies have struggled to make ends meet owing to poor performance during the pandemic.

But young Omani graduates, who are eager to land their first job, support the decision of job reservations for them.

"It is the right thing to do and something that has to happen. Job reservations will make sure we get employment opportunities. I graduated since last summer but I am still searching," said Ali Al Siyabi, a business graduate from the Modern College of Business & Science.

“Let’s hope the authorities will not change their mind.”

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