New data provide new opportunities for a solution. As The National reports today, a survey released last week by the UAE University's business and economics faculty sheds valuable light on the national priority of Emiratisation.
Not surprisingly, Emirati students' views of state employment has a strong impact on their willingness to work in the private sector. But the study, funded by the Emirates Foundation, further explored the career attitudes of 2,267 students in six higher education institutions.
The study concluded that self-confidence was not a major factor in whether or not Emirati students preferred government jobs. Getting more Emiratis into private sector jobs may simply depend on their knowledge about the opportunities that are available to them. Many don't even think of private sector work as a possibility.
The survey also found that the poorly regulated labour market drives Emiratis away. Companies often blame high salary expectations, poor qualifications or an unwillingness to work long hours on why Emiratisation is struggling. Clearly there is another side to the equation.
As The National highlighted in a survey of UAE firms in August, efforts to get more nationals into the private sector are hampered because of a mismatch in expectations between expatriate managers and Emirati workers. But the truth is, that mismatch has to be bridged: Emiratisation is a key component of the UAE's future towards a knowledge economy that is not so reliant on a transient workforce.
The recent survey came in the same week that the Ministry of Labour amended legal requirements for hiring Emiratis, saying that at least 15 per cent of jobs should be reserved for nationals across the private sector. In reality, this is a long-term goal that will be implemented imperfectly at first. The laws, which are supposed to come into effect next month, have to be buttressed by a career strategy that better, more comprehensively showcases workforce opportunities.
Although the education system as a whole is still inadequate to train the skills required for a knowledge economy, the findings point to some hope. Career advice on private sector opportunities can bridge the gap between private and state employment.
At present, many Emiratis may feel more able to contribute to national development by working in the public sector. But now young citizens should know that they can serve the country, and themselves, in the office as well as the majlis.