x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Be realistic about UAE employment

Don't just assume that there's a job available in the UAE – education and training comes first.

The American dream had almost turned into a nightmare by the time I migrated back to the UAE.

California's economy was one of the hardest hit by the financial crisis, which put it in its worst fiscal shape since the Great Depression.

Job opportunities were dwindling and already high rates of unemployment were rising.

The recession's effects on public sector budgets hit home as my state university cut services, classes, office hours and forced professors to take mandatory time off.

In contrast, the little news I received of Abu Dhabi's financial circumstances on the distant west coast was positive.

"What are you doing here?" remarked a Brazilian acquaintance after learning I hailed from the Emirati capital. "All the opportunities are over there, that's the place to be."

After his and numerous other glowing fiscal reports, I naturally had high expectations for decent and prompt employment on my return to the UAE.

This was not to be the case. After a year of endless waiting hours outside offices and countless CV submissions, I learnt that landing a job in the UAE as a citizen was not an easy proposition.

After a couple of false hopes for employment, I realised I was in the unfortunate position of not being fluent enough in Arabic for most government jobs and being too, well, Emirati for most private sector jobs.

Although many of the sought-after public sector jobs required a good level of English, they expected a UAE national, at the very least, to be able to communicate in his native tongue.

On the other hand, many of the private companies enjoyed my proficiency in English but seemed to be turned off by my nationality.

They may have felt obliged to offer me higher wages than an expatriate and would find it hard to fire me if they wished to let me go, which made me a less appealing candidate.

Whatever the reason, I continued to remain a part of the 13 per cent of unemployed Emiratis.

As many of these citizens have learnt, are learning, or will learn - as I did - finding a job in the UAE is something not to be taken for granted. Yet expectations of employment, as well as of landing a well-paid job, are still rampant among the Emirati youth.

A recent poll conducted by two UAE university professors showed 30 per cent of Emirati students surveyed expected a starting salary of Dh25,000 per month, while 10 per cent expected up to Dh50,000.

These figures show the continued sense of entitlement among young Emiratis, even before they have gained experience and proved their worth.

The fact that these expectations were being met realistically only in the realm of the public sector should be worrisome for a nation that employs 90 per cent of its citizens' workforce in the government.

An increase in Emiratis in the UAE private sector, a decrease in the Emirati unemployment rate and a reduction of Emirati job dissatisfaction could all be helped by further educating local youth on the realities of the job market in the UAE, providing them with realistic, rather than raised, expectations.