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Why UAE nationals need more than just a job
There’s no doubt in my mind that the Gulf is a region full of talented, able and passionate individuals. What they need is good career advice, motivational support and encouraging.
December 20, 2012 4:53 by Muhammad Aldalou
I’ve been reading recently with piqued interest about 2013. If you missed it, next year will be the year of employment for Emirati nationals. The UAE Government recently declared that the priority will be to create jobs for UAE nationals. To do that, the government is encouraging the country’s private sector to hire more Emiratis. The essence of the initiative, named Absher, is to provide UAE nationals with more job opportunities in the country’s private sector through upping the salaries and holidays on offer to match the UAE’s public sector.
Private sector job creation initiatives for UAE nationals are desperately needed. Emiratis make up a single-digit percentage of the four million positions in the country’s private sector. According to the reasoning behind Absher, most UAE nationals prefer working in the public sector because of the higher salaries on offer, more vacation days, and greater job security.
Absher is certainly not the first nationalisation initiative in the Gulf region and it certainly won’t be the last. With approximately two million nationals capable of working, Saudi Arabia recently introduced its Nitaqat system to rate private sector companies and their nationalization percentages. Those companies who don’t meet their industry-wide Saudisation quotas face a raft of penalties; those companies that do meet their Nitaqat targets gain a number of benefits. Either way you look at Absher or Nitaqat, the carrot and stick approach aims to accomplish the same goal and get more locals into the workplace.
During a recent stay abroad I was keeping my wife company while she attended a number of photography and creative design training courses. I was struck by the number of GCC nationals who had made similar trips over to the training center in South East Asia, all at their own expense. These Gulf nationals were all young and they all had one aim, to set up their own business. Their determination and belief that they could make a success of themselves was both remarkable and admirable.
And that got me thinking about government initiatives such as Absher. I’ve always believed that to do what you love is a blessing. You’ll rarely find a more satisfied lot than entrepreneurs and other professionals who have followed their passion. They may not as be rich or wealthy as those who have chosen a career for financial reasons and they’ll have little spare time due to having less of a safety net, but they’ll stick it out through bad times as well as enjoying the good times.
There’s a host of arguments to be made about people looking beyond their remuneration. Ok, we all need to have the income coming in to let us live in comfort. But is waving a more-money-more-holidays carrot the right way to go?
One aspect of any employment initiative that I’d like to see being considered is asking jobseekers, “What do you want to do? What do you enjoy? What are you good at?” It’s that focus on a long-term vision, on giving people the confidence to follow through and to have more than a nine-to-five job that will transform a country and its nationals into a knowledge economy. The danger of not looking at the basics is that you get people into jobs which become seat fillers or which they’ll leave after a short period of time. That helps neither the national nor the company that hired them.
There’s no doubt in my mind that the Gulf is a region full of talented, able and passionate individuals. What they need is good career advice, motivational support and encouraging. Similarly, the public and private sector need to cooperate together to develop programmes that will support nationals in job searches, to better enable them to find the right career path rather than just a job.
Education is also key here. Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah Scholarship Program is the most far-reaching initiative of its kind and is a model to the rest of the region. The Saudi government has realised that nationals need more than the education and skills but also a world view, an experience of living outside of the Kingdom in other environments and cultures.
One of the obstacles often faced by nationals thinking of working in the private sector is will they be comfortable to move away from their cultural norms to a more multinational environment. That may initially seem daunting, but it need not be an impediment to nationals entering the private sector. To the contrary, the experience of working with a multinational environment should only enrich and educate.
We need to encourage nationalisation of the workforce, to make UAE nationals an essential part of the private sector workforce. We also need to look beyond filling a position simply for the sake of reducing unemployment. Both the country’s employment authorities and the private sector need to develop career paths for locals and help nationals turn their passions into their livelihoods. Shift the focus away from the monetary benefits of a job and focus on satisfaction, on achievement and development. It’s easier said than done, but the end, long-term result will be a much more productive, happier workforce. As the saying goes, do what you love and the money will follow.
About the writer:
A British national with Arabic roots, Alex has spent ten years in the Gulf and has lived in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and the United Arab Emirates. Alex lost his heart to journalism years ago but he has worked with a range of multinational companies in the technology, energy and financial sector to develop their marketing and communications approach to the region. He’s currently based in Dubai but can often be found at Dubai International Airport flying back home to Bahrain or some other (hopefully exotic) destination.