AL GHARBIA // Ahmed Thani Al Romaithi's sole mission is to recruit Emirati staff for the biggest employer in the Al Gharbia area, the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company.
But a lack of appropriately educated and experienced Emiratis in the western region is proving problematic for the oil giant, Adnoc, and its associated companies, he said.
"This year, we hired 450 people, either straight from high school to go to our training institute, or graduates from HCT [the Higher Colleges of Technology]. But they were mostly from high school," he said. "The government's big concern is to recruit from this region."
Last week, Mr Al Romaithi spent four days prowling for talent at career fairs held on HCT campuses in Al Ruwais and Madinat Zayed.
"For us, the main requirement is for engineers and technicians," he said. "That accounts for 80 per cent of our staffing, in all areas: chemical, electrical, mechanical." He hopes the establishment of Education City - a cluster of higher education and training institutions planned in Madinat Zayed that will house institutions such as Abu Dhabi University and Zayed University - will help bridge the current skills gap.
HCT has tried to bridge that gap in the five years since establishing two campuses in the region. It offers seven disciplines in response to industry needs and student demands.
"You need to know the requirements before you establish an area of institutions," said Mr Al Romaithi. The "more commercial" universities in Abu Dhabi, he said, are still not providing the graduates they need or the technical laboratories to give them the training required for the workplace. "They mainly offer computer science," he said. "For the oil and gas industry the subjects need huge laboratories. It's for that reason that Adnoc established the Petroleum Institute."
Abudlaziz Al Muhairi, 25, has worked for Adnoc since he was 17 and is in his second year of Mechatronics at HCT. "I wanted to improve myself and work up the career ladder," he said. "It's also about working to improve our country."
Many of HCT's male students are employed by Adnoc firms and work until 3pm then attend classes till 8pm to gain higher diplomas or degrees. Oil and gas is the biggest employer in the region, a factor driving the subjects offered at HCT.
Etihad Rail, which will build the country's first railway, is looking for Emiratis from all disciplines, and coming up short. The project will employ 2,500 people in Al Gharbia and currently 30 of its 100 employees are Emirati, but most of them are from Abu Dhabi, Dubai and the Northern Emirates. Nama Al Ameri, the Emiratisation and talent director at Etihad Rail, said: "The railway is an industry that hasn't existed before in the UAE, so it would help to have universities in the country to attract the right students and, in turn, help facilitate these big national projects."
While people working in disciplines such as IT and human resources have come from the local HCT colleges, they are still reliant on importing staff for the more specialised areas such as engineering.
"HCT is only five years old and just beginning to turn out graduates," said Younes Proctor, the learning and development manager at Etihad Rail. He said the company was looking for staff who had studied transport and logistics, but logistics is only offered at a handful of institutions in Dubai and a major in transport was not offered at all. The same goes for railway engineering.
"We're talking to HCT about them offering an MBA with a specialism in railway engineering and related subjects," said Mr Proctor.
HCT will also be launching a degree in logistics in the coming year.
"Engineering is something that's going to also grow for women down here," said Dr Phil Quirke, director of HCT colleges in Al Gharbia. "We've got nuclear [plants] coming, Emirates Aluminium, Etisalat and so on. There's not a company here or coming that doesn't need engineers."