It is one of the major challenges of our country: how to entice Emiratis away from working in the public sector and lure them into the private sector.
There are many ideas about how to address this – some are more realistic than others – but all have the same good, underlying intention of encouraging people to think beyond the limits of public sector employment.
I wholeheartedly support this, since my own working life started in the private sector.
A stroke of luck sent me into the path of a multinational company at a college recruitment fair. Follow-up interviews had me going into a workplace where neither I, nor my family, knew anyone. My previous work experiences had involved ’ammi (uncle) or khalti (auntie) so-and-so looking out for me until my job was done. Now I found myself walking into an office with absolutely no safety net.
It was a totally different atmosphere to the ones I had previously encountered.
The offices were small. Luxury items like flowers were non-existent. The meeting room, literally, made me feel nauseous, and to this day the horrid mix of colours makes me feel queasy.
It was made clear to me that employees routinely stayed at the office until 8pm or 9pm, because there was work that needed to be done. Exhaustion was not uncommon.
This was all quite intimidating to someone who, although both her parents held roles of responsibility in their respective workplaces, had been exposed to nothing like this before.
While my friends were all interviewing at big name government entities and banks, I felt I was a bit of a rebel for considering working at a multinational company that none of my peer group had heard of. Going to work for this company was one of the best decisions I have ever made.
I was the first and only Emirati to work for the multinational’s finance team full-time, and though I’m sure there was an element of positive discrimination, because I made their employment statistics look good, I still did my best to earn my place on that team.
The next three-and-a-half years were character forming in so many ways.
There is a work ethic that is born out of virtually non-stop pressure that you cannot appreciate until you have experienced it for yourself. That feeling of working and needing to do your bit, for your team as a whole to succeed, is one I am very glad I was taught, and I don’t think many other institutions would have encouraged.
My years there taught me the importance of a happy workplace, of leadership and respect, of communication, teamwork and attention to details, of appreciation and recognition, of open-door policies and laughing when you feel like giving up, of knowing your own limits and of pushing those limits and continuously trying to improve yourself.
Can you tell how much I cherish my private sector experience?
It felt like being thrown in at the deep end, but it was also a career rush that I found myself addicted to.
I had friends who had lesser academic degrees than me but were getting paid 50 per cent more than I was in the public sector. Did that annoy me? Yes. But would I have traded places with them? No.
I fully believe that working in the private sector makes you leaner, tougher, hungrier and fiercer, which in an international context is not a bad thing.
Obviously, not every environment is the same, but if you find the right one I promise there is so much to gain.
I agree there is a problem, but it shouldn’t all be on the private sector’s shoulders, or even the Government’s, to fix. Emiratis who work in the private sector choose the path less taken and develop themselves professionally in ways that make them interesting candidates for any future opportunities.
I don’t want to be misunderstood. There are many brilliant public sector employees who work in challenging environments, but the private sector is a viable alternative that I don’t think gets a fair chance.
The leadership of this country believes in Emiratis and has always wanted them to succeed.
Our forefathers challenged themselves and led us to where we are today.
If we choose to follow in their footsteps and accept the new challenges that arise, our country’s progress would continue, which I think would make them proud.
Su’ad Yousif is a civil servant based in Abu Dhabi