Our beloved father of the nation, Sheikh Zayed, said: "No matter how many buildings, foundations, schools and hospitals we build or how many bridges we raise, all these are material entities. The real spirit behind the progress is the human spirit, the able man with his intellect and capabilities."
So he was telling us that what matters is people, his own people and all the ones who came from all over the world to help in writing our country's success story.
However, something's gone a bit off track. There is a reality check taking place, especially in tourism and hospitality. Management consultants are wringing their hands over the question: "Why don't we have more Emiratis in this sector?" Many come up with interesting strategies to try to address the question. But most are about as effective as using an Aspirin to cure a chronic illness.
One argument I constantly hear is: "Emiratis don't want to work in hotels since some handle alcohol and pork and, for a devout Muslim, some morally unacceptable things are going on. We cannot work in such an environment".
Hotels are a lot of hard work for relatively little financial reward for many employees. Of course, it is not nice to say: "I am greedy and lazy and that's why this is not for me!" But it's really not on to use far-fetched religious reasons as an excuse not to take a job.
Why don't private sector firms hire Emiratis? The fact is, Emiratis price themselves out of the market. If I'm a company boss and I need a reliable, diligent and well-educated accountant with a degree, I could find a candidate who would expect to get paid about Dh3,000-5,000 a month. An Emirati fresh out of college would expect at least Dh20,000. Someone running a business simply cannot survive if he or she hires the Emirati candidate.
I once served guests at a well-known hotel for a monthly salary of about Dh3,500. And do you know what happened next? The "social" image of my family and me went into freefall. People wondered how I could have ended up in that job. They also offered their help so I could get myself out of this "embarrassing" situation. How sad is that?
If we don't stop deluding ourselves we are going to have a problem. Money and prestige are our issues. My solution? Let's get our feet back on the ground. People who stand with both feet on the ground can feel their roots. And a bit of sand between the toes will not cause any harm.