Here’s an idea to bring young Emiratis to private sector jobs
Asda’a Burson-Marsteller reports year after year in its Arab Youth Survey that more than two-thirds of young people in Arabian Gulf countries would prefer a government job to one in the private sector. Shorter hours, more holidays and higher salary provide a great competitive advantage.
Such benefits come with a price. In the current market, where all Gulf government companies are looking for savings and efficiency, employees’ performance and drive are key success factors. That requires employees getting out of their comfort zone, contributing to improve the way things are done, but first challenging themselves.
Young employees can contribute greatly to this process.
Just last week, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, bluntly conveyed this message at a youth forum in Abu Dhabi: “If you want to participate in shaping the future then you need to stop thinking of a government job. No other country in the region supports youth-led projects like the UAE. It is one of the easiest countries to set up and run a business, so start your own business and corporations.”
We need more young Gulf graduates in the private sector, building on their energy and knowledge, instead of accepting that so many wait for the right public position, regardless of how long the wait might last. The Federal National Council highlighted that there are 800,000 jobs in the UAE’s private sector that can be filled by Emiratis. But so far only 20,000 to 30,000 Emiratis are employed in private organisations. The situation in neighbouring countries is no different.
Various mechanisms have been put in place to encourage “Gulfanisation” in the private sector, such as incentives or quotas. Past policies have shown some impact, but some companies have hired young Gulf graduates without investing in their development, simply to reach Ministry of Labour targets. Several well-intentioned companies have also report the difficulty of attracting graduates.
So here’s an idea: what if government jobs were reserved for young graduates who have completed two to five years in the private sector after graduation?
Such a decision could modify the status quo, encouraging young graduates to focus their search on the private sector. Once employed, they would be encouraged to learn new skills, benefit from interactions with other cultures, all in order to be best positioned when applying for public jobs – if that is their choice – at the end of their required private sector years. Very few would take the risk of leaving their monthly pay cheque unless they can secure a government job.
Under such a system, government entities would benefit from access to self-driven employees with competitive experience.
The duration of this mandatory period in the private sector can be adapted to the government’s recruitment needs, and be different depending on the sector and field of expertise (finance, administration, human resources, etc). While some may be able to circumvent this by joining family or friends’ private ventures, they won’t be on government payrolls during this period.
This proposal can turn around the challenge of Gulfanisation without any impact on the government’s finances or the private sector’s. It also holds the promise of more knowledge transfer between expatriates and Gulf citizens. Through incentives the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation has already started rewarding private companies for their efforts to train and develop young Gulf graduates.
Even though Gulfanisation in the private sector is still low, several private sector companies with a strong programme have confirmed the positive effect of such efforts. For example, business executives in the networking group Le Cercle Abu Dhabi mentioned that these recruits help them engage with their Gulf consumers and bring a different point of view to business. I have had the chance to advise or mentor several talented Gulf graduates in private organisations who then moved into successful government careers. They reported receiving regular appreciation for their contribution in their new public roles, linked to their distinctive approach to problem solving. They best testify that young Gulf graduates can benefit from careers starting in the private sector.
The writer is a guest lecturer on business negotiation at Paris Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi.
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Updated: March 11, 2017 04:00 AM