Clare Woodcraft is the chief executive of the Emirates Foundation, which redefined its role last year to focus on youth development. Here, she speaks about creating links between business and youth.
Business and young people in the UAE don't seem to understand each other's expectations. Would you agree?
There are changes on both sides. It is improving quite significantly. Emirates Foundation was established to help business invest in the local community. Since we've had our refocus on youth development, we've had even greater interest from business to work with us because they understand that youth development is actually critical to their commercial development, and that top talent is high on the global agenda.
We see the business sector increasingly coming to us and asking us for help: how they can access young Emiratis, or develop their CSR [corporate social responsibility] programmes around youth development, or how they can hire young Emiratis.
And on the other side?
We are discovering [young Emiratis] need a lot of support in terms of career guidance. Not just formal career counselling but also getting access to business. We hear … young people saying: 'Even if I did want a job with an industrial company or technology giant, I don't have the contacts or connections to get there'. With our Kafaat [Connect] programme, it's about giving young people access to the business sector. And our Think Science programme serves a similar purpose. We have internships, taster days.
Do you think quotas for Emirati employees are a good idea?
Quotas … globally have never been particularly effective. A more powerful way to hire Emirati talent is to help young Emiratis themselves create links with the companies. And helping companies see this is an investment and not a cost.
What do you think of the calibre of UAE graduates?
There is a challenge globally for young people - not just in the Middle East - that academia is not doing enough to make sure that people who leave schools and universities are ready to go into a job. Business complains that graduates or high school graduates simply do not have the immediate skills to apply in this environment. There is a lot more academia can do.
Should there be more options for vocational training here?
Absolutely. It's critical and there are some great initiatives in Abu Dhabi. There is the Abu Dhabi Vocational Education and Training Institute and it's doing a great job but you need a lot more. Young people are not necessarily aware of the fact you don't need a degree to have a technical skill set that is valuable and productive. It's a global issue [and] a real tragedy that some young people get pushed into formal academic careers when they would be much better hands-on with technical, practical skills.
Our role is to support young people but to help business do that as well.