x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

A different outlook is required to meet Emiratisation goals

Changing the economy and workforce of the UAE requires changes in outlooks.

'The retirement age for Emirati women should be dropped back from 20 to 15 years of service, and it should not be linked to attaining the age of 50." This was a recent recommendation of one of the Federal National Council's committees. The rationale behind it was that women have special circumstances and should be given the option to retire early to focus on family life.

With Emiratis representing four per cent of employees in the private sector and with the heavy dependence of our economy on foreign labour, which exacerbates demographic imbalances and issues of national identity, promoting policies that encourage half of Emirati society to retire early is shortsighted.

We should be advocating practical, progressive and realistic policies, namely encouraging work environments that are conducive to empowering Emiratis to attain a better work-life balance. This can be done by providing reasonable maternity leave, nurseries in the work place, flexible working hours, the opportunity to work from home where possible, and equitable benefits for women. Our goal should be to nurture the growth of Emirati families, and in parallel, to nurture the role of Emiratis in continuing to build the national economy and society in general.

But progressive policies, as the chief executive of Aramex, Fadi Ghandour, recently pointed out, are often not enough. Mr Ghandour and I spoke recently at Duke University's Global Leadership conference in Dubai and we both agreed that progressive rulers, and the progressive policies and strategies that they advocate, are not enough in themselves.

If there isn't a capable segment of society that can appropriately execute these progressive policies and strategies, then the policies become handicapped by employees who don't have the right mindset or skills to deliver. In these cases, such strategies become theoretical documents as opposed to living policies that grow industries, empower people and provide for a better standard of life.

Creating competent, enlightened and ethical executives is at the core of Emiratisation, and is a product of both an aggressively progressive education system, and a meritocratic selection process in our job market. For example, the myth that an Emirati human resources manager is better than an expatriate human resources manager when it comes to Emiratisation, is just that: a myth. Assuming that a certain nationality will Emiratise more effectively than another is flawed logic. I have personally dealt with some Emiratis who, because they lack the appropriate perspective and skills, felt threatened by more talented Emiratis, and as such would not empower them. I have also heard numerous stories from many Emiratis about their experiences under expatriate managers who would give them menial tasks or no tasks, and avoided training and developing them, again in fear that these talented Emiratis would replace them.

So it is not really a question of having the right nationality in place to help Emiratise or build the national workforce; it is a question of having the right mindsets in place.

Certainly in the UAE, the preference should be to hire Emiratis, but a psychometric approach in selecting candidates should be rigorously applied to select the right candidates for the right jobs. Emiratisation shouldn't be about filling quotas, it should be about building a formidable national workforce that is capable of executing progressive national policies and strategies.

I would argue that we need a dynamic federal and local body that proactively and innovatively seeks to identify Emirati talent and builds a central database of this talent in order to match local talent to jobs. This entity could work under the umbrella of the Federal Human Resource Authority.

Another aspect that requires serious work as we seek to build a strong national workforce is the elimination of a job-for-life-mentality that can exist in the public sector, where the majority of Emiratis work. Such a mentality encourages complacency.

We want Emiratis to be the best candidates out there, capable of manoeuvring between private or and public sectors with ease. As such, we must hold ourselves to rigorous standards that force us to become the best. Government excellence programmes that reward outstanding performance from government employees send the right message. But a much stricter selection process for executive leadership is a necessity, and again, so is one based on psychometrics and a strict meritocracy.

This will be re-enforced through a culture of transparency and accountability, ensuring the existence of dynamic, proactive, objective, diverse and effective boards that ensure policies are being executed to meet sustainable development goals.

Of course, enough cannot be said about the role of progressive education via our homes, our schools, executive training, and enlightened media. We cannot afford to take anything for granted or to become complacent, because there is a new world order emerging, and the decisions we make today will define our place in the world tomorrow.

Najla Al Awadhi is a member of the Federal National Council (FNC). She is one of the first women in the UAE to join the FNC and is also its youngest member