Emiratisation will succeed if the programme is tailored to the needs of individuals.
Emiratisation relies on drive of individuals
At a job fair just about two years ago, a 32-year-old divorced mother was desperate for a job. She told career counsellors that she would be happy to settle for a monthly salary of Dh5,000 in the hospitality sector if it meant that she could support her children.
"My family has taken care of me, but now I am fed up and willing to do anything to get a job," the mother of five said on condition of anonymity.
Many might be surprised to learn that this woman, who was in such tough circumstances and determined to find work, was Emirati. But this is really no cause for surprise. As we have noted before in these pages, stereotypes about Emiratis in the workplace are not only often wrong, but are always harmful to society as a whole.
It is true, however, that integrating Emiratis into the private workforce is proving a difficult job for government. As The National reported yesterday, only one in 50 private-sector workers is Emirati according to a new study by TCO Management Consulting. Those results prompted Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a professor of political science at UAE University in Al Ain, to say that Emiratisation had "utterly failed".
Prof Abdulla takes the right approach by facing the problem in unflinching terms. As a society-wide programme, Emiratisation faces major challenges; at a personal level, however, it is easy to find people who have "Emiratised" very successfully by their own initiative.
By now, the complaints of job-seekers and employers alike are very familiar. Many Emiratis say there are not enough good jobs in the private sector and, worse, they are discriminated against because of cultural stereotypes. Some employers say that not enough Emiratis are qualified for the jobs on offer.
The reality is that, for many companies, Emiratisation has been a quota-filling exercise. Lifelong employment could be - and should be in the UAE, given this country's advantages - a matter of vocation, not just filling an empty desk. Part of the answer here is early vocational training programmes and internships that can both inculcate skills and give career-seekers a better idea what they are interested in and what they are good at.
A bigger picture is also emerging. Career choices can be limited, in part by salary expectations and cultural issues, but also by the scope of the economy. As the national project of economic diversification gains ground, so too will the breadth of career opportunities. People need to be able to find their jobs, not be assigned to them.
The UAE took decades to build the oil-and-gas industry, which came first in national development for obvious reasons. But in the future, the job market must also serve divorced mothers interested in the hospitality industry.