Creating a diversified and knowledge-based economy is not a short-term process. Abu Dhabi's plan to work towards those goals, set out in 2008, reveals its time scale in its title, Economic Vision 2030.
Not quite five years later, reality naturally imposes a few course corrections, and some of these were set out this week in a new study by the Department of Economic Development.
Of the several major suggestions outlined in this Abu Dhabi Competitiveness Report, one in particular seems to promise a breakthrough where one is needed: government-subsidised internships for Emiratis in private-sector companies.
The document's other main proposals also seem to promise improvements in the use of human capital, both national and expatriate. Creating a detailed employee database and developing a fast-track visa system will help match workers to jobs in a timely manner. And setting up a branch of the Petroleum Institute in the emirate's Western Region - where most of the oil is - should expand training and career upgrading opportunities for individuals while helping to meet the needs of the industry. This makes sense, since intensive training of the local workforce can be the biggest challenge Abu Dhabi faces, the report notes.
Emiratisation has, as we all know, moved at a frustratingly slow pace. At present private-sector employers clearly cannot compete for Emirati manpower against the more generous, and more culturally comfortable, public sector. As we have argued more than once in this space, however, the private sector does have some competitive advantages of its own. A well-designed internship programme could give young Emirati graduates a few months of exposure to the lively pace of private business, the prospect of earning rapid promotion, and the career opportunities offered by multinational companies. Working temporarily in the private sector would allow Emiratis to move beyond their preconceptions as they explore career opportunities.
Meeting the challenge of getting more Emiratis into private-sector jobs is increasingly vital to the goals of the 2030 plan. Diversification of the economy cannot be a project for expatriates alone. Anything that offers opportunity for increasing the numbers of Emiratis in private business, from start-ups to multinationals, is well worth the effort.