x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

A wake-up call for Emiratis: competition will change all the rules

Human capital is the real wealth of nations, and the best way to make that nest egg grow is through education.

When I think of a quote that best describes the frame of mind leaders must have today, nothing gets the message through quite like the words of Sheikh Zayed: "The real asset of any advanced nation is its people, especially the educated ones."

In the UAE, that message still holds true today, with education and the development of citizens at the top of the national agenda.

Whether an Emirati is looking for theoretical, technical, academic or professional development, there is no shortage of opportunities. Any educational institution, whether public or private, has a responsibility to contribute to this project of human-capital development.

The world is always evolving and maturing, and the UAE's history has seen exceptional growth. But that growth comes with a responsibility for the citizens of the country - that responsibility, in short, is simply to be prepared for future challenges.

In a recent interview, Abdullatif Al Shamsi, the managing director of the Institute of Applied Technology, was quoted as saying: "Gone are the days when Emiratis would get jobs because of their nationality or status."

Although I do not believe that statement is completely true today (Emiratisation initiatives put pressure on both the public and private sectors to hire Emiratis), I do believe we are not far from that reality.

Socio-economic transitions will affect every country that is competing at the global level. To support Emiratis' ambitions in the global workforce, we must help to transform the mindset of citizens.

This mindset has to recognise that things will not always be the same. Today, we are accustomed to the benefits our government bestows upon us (housing and health care and the like), but are these benefits just a means to make us more comfortable, or the building blocks to help us to achieve further excellence?

I am a firm believer in the latter of these two approaches. At the same time, I don't believe in long-term predictions - in this international climate, we can hardly predict what will happen tomorrow, let alone what we will be faced with in the next 20 years. We need to be sure that there will be people among us who will thrive regardless.

First and foremost will be people who are able to think globally and act locally - the so-called "glocal" professional, as the jargon puts it. The international playing field is levelling out, with everyone looking for a piece of someone else's pie. As a nation, we cannot afford to compare ourselves just to each other; there are billions of people looking to make it in this world.

So whether you are a business owner or an employee, think how you would stand against a competitor from the United States or China, rather than one from Dubai or Ras Al Khaimah.

Second, we have to view each other as investments by our government, rather than expenses. Fortunately, we are not taxed, but that is not to say there will never be a time when we are expected to return, in one way or another, that which our country invested in us. This would be a natural requirement.

With these investments in national human capital, we are expected to add value within our various roles. Every local organisation should have the potential to be the next Emirates Airline, and to compete at the international level.

Last but not least, is education, which I believe has taken a back seat to Emiratisation because of the relative ease of finding employment. Many Emiratis skip out on their education to start making what seems like a lot of money at a relatively young age.

But if we can recognise that things will not always be the same, it becomes critical for us to take advantage of educational opportunities that are offered to us while they still exist.

At present, any Emirati can comfortably achieve any level of education, at universities here or abroad, with substantial government support. And when you cannot predict the future, it is best to prepare for it - there is no better way than through education.

The vision for the UAE is fundamentally about the people. But it is difficult to say if being an Emirati is enough to automatically put you at the forefront of that vision. I am willing to bet, however, that if you are educated, ready and willing, you will be the first to be called upon.


Khalid Al Ameri is a political and social commentator based in Abu Dhabi

On Twitter: @KhalidAlAmeri