DUBAI // At one time, 60 per cent of the staff at Taaheed Outsourcing Management were Emirati.
Now, only four UAE citizens remain.
“All of them went to work in the public sector,” explains Mohammed Ahmad Al Mulla, a project manager at Taaheed. “They found better opportunities.”
The earnest Emiratisation efforts of the private sector are being undermined by Government agency salaries, work hours and hiring practices, according to Hamza Zaouli, the managing director of the UAE’s first specialist Emiratisation recruitment firm.
“Companies in the government and private sectors are not competing with the same weapons. Working hours are different, for a start. Some governments also pay extremely high salaries, penalising the rest of the market,” he said.
The tendency of government firms to headhunt Emiratis from the private sector makes matters worse.
“They recognise the quality of Emiratis coming from the private sector, and ask us to headhunt from the private side because the environment is more competitive and offers better learning experience,” said Mr Zaouli.
The most attractive government sectors, in Mr Zaouli’s experience, include energy firms and sovereign funds or investment arms such as Mubadala, InvestAD and Adia.
“Companies in these sectors are perceived to offer higher pay than other sectors, and more job stability. We often find outstanding candidates desperate to move to industries other than these.
“But the golden cage syndrome is a real challenge to overcome for them. They are being paid more than most possible destinations, so their choice is often drastically reduced and the natural flow of talent between industries and sectors is completely undermined.”
The latest figures, published in an online report by the National Statistics Bureau, suggest Emiratis account for just 0.5 per cent of the private labour force.
“I have lost count of how many Emiratis have come here to work, only to quit six months later to join the government sector,” said Mal Allah Salem, 33, an Emirati sales supervisor at Al Tayer Motors.
“They really look after Emiratis here. There is a section focusing on Emiratisation, and they keep following up on how you’re doing. But staff compare their job with relatives in the public sector and start to think that’s a better option.”
Mr Salem served in the military for eight years and in another government sector for a year before he joined Al Tayer Motors six years ago.
“The first few days were difficult; it’s nothing like the public sector,” he admitted. “I didn’t know anyone and the company was mostly expats.
“But you work hard and prove yourself. The people you meet are interesting and the work is fun and challenging. And you gain new skills all the time. There is very little of that in the government sector.”
Mr Al Mulla, who has 12 years’ experience in recruitment, says work in the public sector is very routine.
“We’ve found many Emiratis don’t like sitting behind a desk all day,” he said. “Most people in the public sector just punch in and punch out and collect their pay at the end of the month, which is why many of them are not happy with their jobs,” said Mr Al Mulla. “For me personally I’m more interested in comfort and job satisfaction than salary.”
Mr Zaouli remains hopeful that the private and government sectors will begin to work together and align strategies on Emiratisation.
“The private sector is moving forward,” he said. “And stereotypes among Emiratis about the private sector are broken every day.”