Emirati students, businesses and human resources experts will gather in Abu Dhabi today to consider how to raise the number of nationals employed in the private sector from the existing level of less than 2 per cent of the total workforce.
For years, the Government has made great efforts to try to attract more Emiratis into the private sector including quotas and the latest initiative of declaring 2013 to be the year of Emiratisation.
Emiratis occupy less than 2 per cent of the 2.2 million jobs in the private sector, according to research from TCO Management Consulting. A 2011 labour report released by the National Bureau of Statistics in November showed Emiratis make up only 0.5 per cent of employees in the private sector.
The data reinforces a trend that has been consistent since the development of the country more than four decades ago: that the Government remains the employer of choice for most Emiratis.
As the public sector matures and pressure builds on state finances, the need to break the pattern is becoming increasingly critical.
How to encourage more nationals into other employment channels will be the focus of the Emiratisation Summit 2013. The summit gets under way with the Emirati Youth Forum, a platform to allow more than 100 students to discuss their career aspirations with prospective employers.
One of the aims of the event will be challenging preconceptions about the Emirati workforce. Shorter working hours, higher pay and a working environment more in tune with their cultural background are all commonly cited by human resource experts as the reasons for nationals shunning the private sector for the Government.
"The decision to move into the private sector for Emiratis has been marred by stereotypes and doubt," said Mawya Al Qaissieh, a 27-year-old Emirati who moved from the public sector two years ago to become a communications manager at Reem Investments, an Abu Dhabi-based investment company in the private sector.
"My advice to the Emirati youth is to identify their career goals before they decide to join the public sector or the private sector. Their decisions should not be based on stereotypes."
The Cabinet passed a decree in 2005 that stipulates companies operating in trade and commercial activities with more than 50 employees should maintain an annual 2 per cent Emiratisation quota.
In recent years, it has been family-owned or local companies which have made the most strides employing nationals.
For example, Majid Al Futtaim Holding, which develops and manages several hotels and shopping malls, has a unit dedicated to promoting the employment of nationals.
Progress is also being made in other sectors. Banks have been set a target of raising the number of Emiratis they employ every year by 4 per cent until 40 to 45 per cent of staff are Emirati. Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank is among the industry leaders in the Emiratisation drive. By the end of last year it aimed to raise its staff numbers to 50 per cent.
Emiratisation levels are generally lower among multinational companies than local private sector firms.
Overturning the trend will require a refocus in education and training involving teachers, employers and students themselves, said Sulaf Saleh Al Zu'bi, the chief executive of Injaz UAE, a non-profit organisation seeking to encourage entrepreneurship among nationals.
"As well as learning English, maths and other subjects, students should also become more knowledgeable in soft skills, team work and career planning," she said.