There are no easy answers for how this country can bridge the yawning gap between the public and private sectors and, in the process, turn more Emiratis on to opportunities in non-governmental enterprises? There are no easy answers, but UAE officials, to their credit, recognise the importance of addressing this issue and including the public in the discussion.
Data shows that Emiratis prefer working in the government sector, and those who do not land lucrative public sector jobs will wait for a government position to present itself. Unemployment among Emiratis is around 12 per cent which, by itself, would seem incongruous in a nation with so much opportunity. But this trend is clear on paper. Salaries in the public sector are higher, working hours are shorter, holidays longer and jobs tend to be more secure. As a result, there are only about 20,000 Emiratis working in the private sector worker pool (compared to 225,000 in the public sector), out of more than four million. Those Emiratis make up only 0.5 per cent of the total private workforce, according to latest statistics by the National Statistics Bureau.
Righting this imbalance is now a national priority, for both economic and social reasons. As The National reported yesterday, the Minister of Labour, Saqr Ghobash, has called for an open discussion and debate on the UAE labour law stressing that weekends, salaries and benefits need to be reconsidered. Meanwhile, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, Minister of Presidential Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister, discussed the issue during the recent Government Summit in Dubai, noting that the Emiratisation of the private sector will not succeed without having more skilled and responsible Emiratis, and this starts with higher quality of education and training.
Officials hope to create more than 20,000 jobs for Emiratis in 2013. These positions can be secured in the government sector, but the real challenge will be to increase the ranks of citizens in the private sector. And doing that will require a variety of solutions. Immediate moves, like supplementing private sector salaries with government offsets, may lure Emiratis into new positions.
But this is not a permanent solution. If salaries are not tied to performance, for instance, motivation will be difficult.
Longer-term solutions are more challenging. The UAE needs to better motivate young people to seek jobs that match their skills with available industries. Figuring out how to do this, and building a more competitive private sector in the process, will take time. But the first step, the one taken this month, is discussing the problem.