DUBAI // Multinational companies must create a more comfortable working atmosphere for Emiratis, a conference has heard.
Internships and opportunities for government employees to sample life in such companies for a few months were other ways to lure Emirati science graduates into the private sector, speakers yesterday told the Life Sciences Foresight event organised by DuBiotech.
Longer-term expatriates were also needed to ensure true knowledge transfer and "the Emiratisation of knowledge", the conference heard.
"From a UAE perspective, with local talent we have some issues," said Dr Ashraf Allam, regional managing director for the Middle East and Africa of the biotechnology giant Amgen.
"We don't have access to the local talent here. We have a perception, and I tend to believe it's a reality, that local talent tend to trade job security and work-life balance with growth and career enhancement.
"If you work for the Government it's more comfortable, you can sail along. The corporate world is usually intense. You need to work hard, there's a lot of risk involved, it's a very competitive environment.
"Someone has to research why these people are not coming to the multinationals. What are they really looking for? Also, if the Government is really serious about Emiratisation they need to put in a few incentive programmes for multinationals."
Dr Khaled Amiri, head of the biology department at UAE University, said most nationals felt more comfortable in the public sector.
"One of the reasons is that they don't know much about it, they don't know the culture of the biotech industry," Dr Amiri said.
"We see this at the university and we know that most of the nationals work in the public sector because it is more safe, they are more familiar with it. The multinationals have to provide a more comfortable ambience for the Emiratis to work in."
He said most graduates from his department took jobs in public-sector laboratories in hospitals and police forensic departments.
"When you come to the private sector you don't see them," Dr Amiri said. "There's no orientation. We'd like the pharmaceutical and biotech companies to come to the university to orient the students."
Dr Allam said the opportunities for nationals in companies such as Amgen were not limited to the laboratory.
"They can work in sales and marketing, corporate affairs, HR, government affairs and finance," he said. "So there are separate areas open to local talent.
"We could do a switch assignment for talent who work for the Government so they don't need to leave the job, they could come and work for a multinational for a few months in an effort to twist their mindset a little bit. We could also do internship programmes."
Another speaker, Dr Kai Chan, senior adviser to the Emirates Competitiveness Council, said the country's universities offered a wide range of science, maths and engineering courses, but not enough students were attracted to them.
"There are more than 70 higher education institutes in the UAE, so I definitely think the programmes being offered cover what the country needs," Dr Chan said.
"But the question is whether or not the students are taking those subjects, and I would say right now I don't think the levels are there. There has to be more focus on maths, science and engineering."
He said the UAE would always need talented expatriates to bring their skills and knowledge, but it needed them here for longer terms.
"If the expats are only here for a short amount of time you're not getting knowledge transfer to the local talent," Dr Chan said. "To get knowledge transfer you need them to be here for a really long time and you need mentorship programmes, especially in the sciences."
Dr Amiri said: "What we are talking about here is not just an Emirati getting a job, we want Emiratisation of information, the transfer of technology."