x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

High expectations in the public sector can derail careers

New graduates seeking jobs should not ignore the private sector; here are three reasons why not.

Finding your first job can be a daunting task. When a young graduate takes those first steps outside the safety net of parental support and university life, things become a lot harder. Starting a job search is time for real life.

Or is it? New graduates' salary expectations are going through the roof, newly published survey results suggest.

The poll, conducted by two UAE University professors for the Emirates Foundation, found that 30 per cent of those surveyed expect a monthly salary of Dh25,000 or more, while another 10 per cent expect up to Dh50,000. I wonder how "real" this sounds by international standards.

It is not the salary these graduates expect that raises concern, nor their sole focus on financial motivation. Everyone is entitled to their drivers in life, right?

What concerns me is the mindset that this financial prosperity should come via a public-sector job and social mandates set by the Government.

No matter what the statistical significance of the survey - only 30 students were polled - the findings reveal some important themes that I believe extend throughout the community of newly graduated UAE job seekers.

It is important to state the obvious: the government sector and the UAE's business development initiatives are pretty much joined at the hip. With the growth of government-related entities and investment companies over the past 10 years, it is hard to find a sector of the economy that doesn't tie back to the government.

That is not a bad thing. In light of the leadership's critical mandate of diversifying the country away from hydrocarbons, it only makes sense that governments should play a key role in fulfilling this mandate.

In parallel, from a human capital perspective, this supports the development of public-service leaders to drive the country forward.

But the government sector's gain is the private sector's loss, for the obvious reasons: the much-reported difference between the two in financial compensation, work-life balance and employment security.

The idea of working in the private sector, which used to merely have high opportunity costs, now sometimes seems like stupidity.

I don't think it is a matter of the private sector looking bad in the eyes of young graduates. But the attractiveness of the government sector has increased so dramatically, in such a short time, that the private sector simply could not keep up, and has naturally become a dot in the rear view mirror, especially when a new Emirati graduate is driving.

But those young job-seekers should keep three points in mind.

First is the history of the private sector. Some international companies operating in the UAE have been around for decades, some even a lot longer than we have been established as a country. They bring with them a wealth of experience and intellectual property that we, as a country, are still learning.

Look at how the UAE's government-related entities are being run today, with financial targets and strategic mandates. This mindset comes from private-sector practices.

The familiar saying is we are owned by the Government, but run as a private company. That means that private-sector experience is highly valued, and easily transferable to the public sector.

Second, ambitious young graduates making career decisions naturally tend to focus on the issue of starting salaries, but ought to look farther ahead. Our young job-seekers might be surprised to learn that when one compares the compensation packages of senior leaders in the government sector and the private sector, the private side comes out clearly on top.

After a certain threshold in the management level, private-sector bonus schemes, stock options and partnership possibilities have a lot more to offer those who are driven mainly by financial rewards.

New graduates looking for salaries of Dh50,000 right off the bat should take a second to think how much that amount will have increased five or 10 years down the line. That could put the private sector in a much better light.

Third is the importance of training and development when deciding on a sector or career option to pursue. The UAE is becoming more a part of the global economy every day, and that brings a wealth of human talent into the country, essentially increasing competition. Emiratis must be aware of, and well prepared for, a hiring playing field that now extends well beyond the borders of the UAE.

The beginning of your career is when you roll up your sleeves and soak up as much information as possible. From that perspective, the private sector's long hours do not look like a drawback but rather an opportunity to improve your skills and become more capable and valuable.

Nobody has truly become successful without putting in a lot of time and effort. And when one does invest the necessary hard work, financial prosperity is usually not too far behind.

One of the students who was surveyed was quoted as saying: "It is our right as nationals to have jobs that pay well."

I would like to think that the UAE is at a crossroads of development. Things are changing around us every day, and it is our responsibility as citizens of this country to adapt and contribute to the best of our capabilities.

In the face of globalisation, part of that adaptation process is to not let our nationality be the reason for our success.


Khalid Al Ameri is an associate at a development company based in Abu Dhabi

On Twitter: @KhalidAlAmeri