x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Quotas are a quick fix for a long-term Emiratisation challenge

Employment quotas do no credit to the many excellent Emiratis in the labour force who have made their own way through their own efforts.

Few people, in business or in government, can be unaware of the drive for Emiratisation, which has the dual objectives of trying to ensure that UAE citizens are given access to job opportunities, and to promote Emiratis' participation in national decision-making.

It's a campaign that has laudable objectives: it is right that Emiratis should have access to employment opportunities. At the same time - as the late Sheikh Zayed noted on more than one occasion - Emiratis should learn to appreciate the dignity of work itself, and to contribute to the country's future.

Most Emiratis need to work for one reason or another: for the salary, for the self-satisfaction or from a desire to contribute. But there are many who lack motivation and fail to give back to the country. Education will take time and effort - and it isn't simply a matter of unreasonably high salary expectations, or of a desire for shorter working hours.

Nor is Emiratisation a threat to expatriates. There are still many areas where there will not be enough Emiratis - the rapidly growing nuclear industry is one example. It would be delusional to pretend that, just because there is a growing number of Emiratis in a particular industry, they all have sufficient experience and the right work ethic to be able to perform without expatriate help.

Qualified expatriates will still need to be employed, perhaps as consultants so that they don't affect Emiratisation statistical targets. There are other techniques to massage Emiratisation figures, too - this is well known in companies that have moved non-Emirati personnel to free zones so that they can claim to have met Emiratisation targets.

Recently, I've come across relatively young Emiratis who are well qualified in terms of education and work experience, who desperately want to be employed and to earn their own keep, and yet are deeply frustrated by the job hunt.

One young man who has been unemployed for six months just accepted a post where he's not being given the responsibilities he is well-equipped to handle. He's depressed and bored, a wasted talent.

Another Emirati has recently been told by potential employers that they would like to take her on to fill their Emiratisation quota. Yet they also told her that they really didn't know what to do with her, although she has more than a decade of experience in a related field.

She doesn't want to be hired just because of her passport; she wants to work - to meet and exceed the demands of her employers and to find professional satisfaction in leading a productive life.

Another example is an Emirati who was told by potential employers, who work in an industry that does not have Emiratisation quotas, that they were disinclined to hire Emiratis at all. The mistaken belief was that citizens are almost impossible to dismiss if they fail to perform properly.

There's no quick fix to this problem - and, in my view, the imposition of formal quotas for Emiratisation is sometimes viewed as a quick fix. It makes sense that an Emirati's CV should at least be properly considered. Beyond that, however, Emiratis need to recognise that their passports by themselves are no guarantee of employment. They need to perform.

Expatriate employers also need to recognise that many Emiratis work hard and seek to excel, even if others do not. Those who promote the concept of quotas need to recognise that it does no credit to the many excellent Emiratis in the labour force who have made their own way, through their own efforts.

Among the thousands of Emiratis clamouring for jobs, many have a real desire to serve their employers in the best way possible, helping themselves at the same time. Let them do so - and, at the same time, let those who fail to perform fall by the wayside.

It does the country no service for the employment of Emiratis to be considered a right without the accompanying responsibility that comes with the job.


Peter Hellyer is social affairs commentator who specialises in UAE culture and heritage