ABU DHABI // Emiratis need to take entry-level jobs and accept wages set by the market so they can take a bigger role in the economic development of the country, according to the new head of a body designed to increase employment among nationals. Unrealistic expectations are one reason why more than 8,000 Emiratis are registered as unemployed and seeking a job, said Abdullah al Darmaki, the executive director of the Abu Dhabi Emiratisation Council (ADEC).
"The Government envisions Emiratis being able to do everything, from filling up a car with gas and working at McDonald's to running companies," he said. "The economy cannot sustain all nationals to be at one level." Mr al Darmaki, a former executive at Bawadi, the Dubai developoment, and Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, is leading the reinvention of ADEC as an institution that connects the growing private sector of Abu Dhabi with unemployed Emiratis.
The 8,000 job-seeking Emiratis registered with ADEC, combined with as many as 2,000 graduates of local universities each year, creates a large pool of labour that needs to be employed. This process was socially necessary but also important for the future of the country, Mr al Darmaki said. "We need to be self-dependent to some extent. Expats only come to an economy during a boom period. When things slow down, they look for the next opportunity. We need to be able to fill that vacuum."
To do this, Emirati job seekers needed to accept the jobs for which they were qualified, he said. "Not everyone can be a manager starting off." The key to the strategy he has crafted to get Emiratis employed is getting accurate information about the businesses in Abu Dhabi and their needs. He said he would form committees with the stakeholders from major companies to better understand their three-to-five year business plans, and then mobilise ADEC to respond to those needs. Sectors such as manufacturing, travel and tourism, and oil and gas had great potential for growth, he said. "We need to not be about just training programmes. Instead, we can respond to what companies need here and build competence."
Career counsellors at ADEC will help Emiratis to prepare for interviews and decide whether to pursue additional training. A part of this process will be explaining what wages are realistic and what the work will entail. ADEC will also counsel expatriate employers about sensitivities in Emirati culture. Mr al Darmaki is working closely with the Education Council to help communicate with students about jobs available in the market, so they can make better-informed decisions about what areas of study to focus on at university.
For sectors that are in high demand, the two councils may create more scholarships and incentives to encourage students to fill the demand. "We are not here to influence the mindset of people about what they want to study, but help them to understand the market," he said. For now, Mr al Darmaki is focusing on a complete "rebranding and repositioning" of ADEC. Rather than be seen as an organisation that would ensure someone a job, he said ADEC was set up to help people with a strong work ethic and willingness to adapt to what was needed by the economy.
"A number of people have come here just to get paid," he said. "But we are moving away from that. We are trying to get closer to the community, so that as soon as a young person graduates they know they can come to us and get registered." ADEC has started the process of matching Emiratis to jobs that traditionally have been filled by expatriates. Last month, the Abu Dhabi Police signed an agreement with ADEC to provide 130 police jobs for Emiratis and in August the Education Council agreed to offer 700 jobs, including safety and transport officers.