x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Stereotypes about Emirati employees aren’t accurate

Growing Emirati employment in semi-government businesses disproves the old myths about hiring preferences.

Emiratis and the private sector just can’t seem to get along. Article after article comes out highlighting the same problems and stereotypes. Sometimes it’s easy to believe that some elements of a self-fulfilling prophecy are in play.
Emiratis shy away from the private sector, we are told, due to the longer working hours and lower pay. But this, like most stereotypes, is an unnecessary generalisation. We should not judge the whole Emirati workforce on the basis of the media attention given to a minority.
In fact there is a real shift in working cultures going on. One need look no further than the government-related entities (GREs) that have come to prominence over the past 10 years in the UAE. These companies are structured like, and operate like, private-sector companies: they have strong mandates, tangible deliverables, and a shareholder that expects positive financial and strategic results.
Additionally, service employees in government departments such as immigration and licensing are very quick to point out how times have changed since the days where work ended at 1.30pm.
Employees now have longer working hours in line with those in the private sector, and there are multiple shifts to fill.
On a compensation level, it’s true, the starting salary in the government sector wins hands down. But when a person moves up the corporate ladder to the management and director level, the private sector wins by a long shot.
With offers of partnerships and stock options, certain managers have an overall stake in the performance of the company, and can reap the rewards. This is a process the Government has yet to match, and one that I don’t think it will match in the foreseeable future.
So here is where I think we stand: when we take out the stereotype argument that Emiratis fear hard work, longer hours and lower pay, the matter simply boils down to the disconnect between the skills fresh graduates have and the skills the private sector needs.
Private-sector companies may be unwilling to make the initial investment of time and effort to bring this young workforce up to speed on operational and industry specifics. So these graduates must look to the government sector or GREs for jobs.
The Government has been trying to find those jobs, since the last thing the UAE needs is a large crop of unemployed degree-holders.
This week we learnt that Emiratis who take jobs in the private sector will have up to 30 per cent of their wages paid by the Government for their first eight months of employment. This initiative is part of the Absher programme, launched this year to promote Emiratisation and so encourage the socio-economic progress of the population.
I am not sure how they came up with the 30 per cent figure, or the eight-month timeline. The first thing that comes to mind is that this could be another case of throwing money at a problem, instead of treating the underlying symptoms, which as noted have more to do with skills than with compensation.
However, I think this is a valuable and essential start. But it will be a success if, and only if, the money thus saved by the private sector is used to train Emiratis in accordance with global best practices. If not, we’ll be back where we started.
Aside from this Government initiative, the most promising story I have heard recently is of an Emirati business leader who has spent her time coaching young Emiratis, supporting them through private sector internships, and creating programmes to ensure that their skillsets are in line with the private sector’s needs, come employment time.
The future depends upon people like her who are willing to invest time and effort in building bridges of understanding between the private sector and Emiratis – people who have had enough of the repetitive articles, enough of the talking, and who are getting down to work to change the way things are done.
When the children of the UAE are nurtured to be on a par with their international counterparts, and are taking up leadership roles in all areas of expertise – government, GRE, and private – that is when our job will be done.
That is the ultimate goal. So let’s put the stereotypes to rest and let’s get to work. The future of our nation depends on it.


Khalid Al Ameri is an MBA Candidate at the Stanford Graduate School of Business
On Twitter: @KhalidAlAmeri