The "year of Emiratisation" is half way through, but the figures on Emiratis working in the private sector underscore the gravity of the challenge. The latest statistics show that only 10 per cent of the 225,000 Emiratis in the workforce are employed by private companies, with about two-thirds of them in banking.
Absher, the Emiratisation initiative, has been a good starting point. The government scheme has created 3,768 jobs for Emiratis since it was launched last year. More than 2,500 nationals working in the private sector have obtained Absher cards that entitle them to discounts, special offers and other privileges. But there is more to be done over the next five years to fulfil the programme's goal of having at least 20,000 more Emiratis working for private companies.
And as The National reported yesterday, the government has said that it will extend the Absher initiative to pay 30 per cent of the monthly salaries of Emiratis employed in the private sector for their first eight months of work, as well as paying a maximum of Dh10,000 for Emirati trainees. The strategy aims to motivate more private companies to train and hire UAE nationals.
Government policies are doing their bit to address the imbalance in the number of Emiratis in a private sector that is dominated by expatriate workers. But there are obstacles that need to be addressed: the perceptions of Emiratis about working for private companies, and the perceptions of private-sector employers who hesitate to give Emiratis jobs.
This newspaper reported yesterday on the increasing number of Emiratis who are changing negative stereotypes about UAE nationals in the workplace.
Emiratis' own negative perceptions about seeking work with private companies are reinforced by the fact that there are more appealing jobs in the government sector, offering fewer working hours, more holidays and better pay. It will take time for many Emiratis to realise the benefits of working in the more competitive, outward-looking, profit-driven private sector - and this is understandable.
The Emiratisation of the private sector is a long-term process that is certainly challenging, especially given the huge imbalance. Policies such as Absher are positive steps towards achieving the goal, but a change in mindset from both sides is crucial.