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Young, out of work, and unemployable

Young, out of work, and unemployable

The Middle East has a large pool of young people able to fill gaps in the workforce. So where are they?

April 14, 2010 4:47 by

Clearly, education plays a crucial role in equipping the overwhelmingly young local populations for the workforce (both private and public sector) and addressing this disparity between expatriates and nationals. This is why, in recent years, the U.A.E. has committed $10 billion to education. In the words of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, U.A.E. prime minister and ruler of Dubai, this is geared to “build a knowledge-based society throughout the region and enhance the standing of scholars and intellectuals in the Arab world.”

But, as Arkless explains, education is not a silver bullet to solve the problem. He asks: “Are the youth making the transition from training to employment?”

Gap years

Although a dearth of targeted research across the Middle East means that no hard figures are available, Arkless points to anecdotal evidence suggesting that, once they complete training, many Emiratis can take three or four years before beginning work. This prompts him to ask another rhetorical question: “Are governments across the Arab world doing enough to motivate nationals to join the workforce?”

Arkless identifies another part of the problem, one which he sees as peculiar to the Middle East. Because of the status it holds as the world’s most cash-rich region thanks to its vast oil reserves, companies from Europe, China, and the rest of the world have been desperate to do business here – and to recruit locals to help them win the most lucrative contracts.

“In many cases, those locals who do get the best training are then hired to work in places outside of the Middle East, to assist foreign companies in their business ventures within the Arab world. This just further accentuates the region’s shortfall in talent,” he said.

Boosting the spirit of entrepreneurship among local Arab populations is vital, because locally based businesses will naturally create more jobs for local populations. This is where business schools such as INSEAD see an opportunity. The international graduate business school with campuses in Europe, Asia, and now the U.A.E. believes demand for its courses will be strong as it seeks to create the region’s next generation of innovative business leaders.

As INSEAD’s Dean, and Arkless’ fellow W.E.F. co-chair, Frank Brown, said: “This region is a very entrepreneurial environment which demonstrates … rapid change. This is one of the reasons we were attracted to the Middle East.”

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  1. TB on April 14, 2010 5:13 pm

    Perhaps getting rid of the free DEWA, property, etc, might help? There’s not a lot of incentive to bother going into the workforce when you’re supported by subsidies and freebies from the government.

    Removing or lowering the quota system for hiring Emiratis would probably help too. Talk to many UAE-based business owners and you’ll hear plenty of stories about Emirati employees who do little more than turn up, collect their cheques and go home again. Some Emiratis are wonderful and capable workers, and they are like gold dust. Make getting a job harder and more competitive and you’ll force modern kids to up their game.

  2. Miss Anne Thropic on April 21, 2010 1:38 pm

    Lowering government salaries and amending government job working hours so they are in line with private sector salaries, rather than throwing money at private companies to hire Emiratis, would help too.

    At the moment, there is no real incentive for Emiratis to work longer hours for less money in the private sector.

    I know of an Emirati graduate who expects Dh30,000 a month for her first job straight from college with no experience. I graduated from college with five years work experience already behind me and took a job where the salary was the equivalent of about Dh7,000. But I knew that my first job was not going to be my well-paid dream job.

    I have a pretty good job now but it took hard work and experience to get there, rather than an inflated sense of entitlement or the attitude that the world owed me a favour.

  3. Andrew on April 21, 2010 2:55 pm

    Every year the federal and local government discuss the fact that public sector growth both financially and numerically is unsustainable, every year the advantage of the public sector is retrenched financially or otherwise.

    For those in specialised technical roles (ADNOC, ADWEA, etc.) it makes sense they have to compete with both the market and each other, but paying salaries to non-technical staff that are about 3-4 times what you’d expect to get paid in developed countries is nothing more than state-sanctioned benefits.

  4. Miss Anne Thropic on April 21, 2010 4:18 pm

    Yep, pay specialists such as ADNOC engineers well, but Dh30,000+ salaries for desk-bound pen-pushers is insane.

    The aforementioned female graduate was also living at home in Abu Dhabi so it’s not as if exorbitant Abu Dhabi rent has to come out of her unrealistic salary. It is little wonder then that young Emiratis fritter away money on materialistic things, starting with the time they get $130 a week in pocket money.

    The sad part is that it would be so easy to sort out these country’s problems but the local whining about how they all suffer would be heard from space…

  5. Andrew on April 22, 2010 8:11 am

    I’m quite lucky that most of my closest friends are Emirati, however on a few occasions even they’ve rolled out the “I *only* earn 20,000 a month” line. For those who live at home and work in non-technical roles, and still find it hard to live on what is essentially 40,000 pounds a year with no overheads or tax – it astonishes me.


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