x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Emirati job demands too high, say experts

Emiratis advised to lower their salary and career advancement expectations if they are to integrate further into the private sector.

ABU DHABI // Emiratis joining private companies need to adjust their expectations of salary and career progression, experts said yesterday. About 60 per cent of nationals in the private sector have quit corporate jobs because of limited progress and the absence of mentors.

The figures, which were released on Saturday, were compiled by the Emirates Nationals Development Programme, a government-funded project aimed at integrating Emiratis into the private workforce. Emiratis make up about four per cent of the private sector workforce, compared to 52 per cent of the public sector one. "Even under ideal conditions there will not be enough jobs for locals in the private sector if some of the structural issues are not being addressed," said Dr Ingo Forstenlechner, an assistant professor at UAE University, who has conducted research into Emiratisation.

"The issues with the private sector are obvious. It's designed for nationals as investors," he said. Career planning, for example, is not necessarily part of the private sector tradition, and the system is not equipped to handle permanent employment, he said. Moreover, private sector jobs cannot match the salary and welfare benefits of the public sector. Dr Forstenlechner said there was also a social element to retaining Emiratis. The large number of nationals in the public sector creates pressure to conform, often similar to the tendency for Arab families to favour medical or engineering degrees for their children.

There is a "social stigma" attached to private sector jobs. Many Emiratis have few relatives working outside the public sector, he said. Also, the public sector offers comfortable working hours and job security, he said. Mohamed al Neaimi, director of the Government's Tawteen initiative, said many young people lack the patience and endurance to progress through private companies. "The private sector is organised, and when he joins even if he has experience, they begin with him from zero," said Mr al Neaimi. "This, of course, takes a long time. Our youth, some of them endure and some do not."

He said that if they had the patience, they would get through training programmes and progress enough to earn salaries rivalling those of the public sector. "There are skills that the employee needs to get to reach the benefit," he said. "Be patient. Sure they want to get married and do other things, but the private sector also has investors, a board of directors, all these things and they need to deal with them."

For the most part, the private sector has clear career progression and mentoring systems, he said. But it is important to distinguish between reasonable and unreasonable demands, said Dr Forstenlechner. It is not poor career progression if a person does not get promoted after three months, he said. The private sector can better use Emiratis if they "listen to their needs, making them feel welcome and using them where they can really provide value" such as in dealings with the Government, he said.

The Government should also emphasise Emirati role models who are successful in the private sector. Jamal al Mawed, 24, an Emirati at a private company in Dubai, said: "Performance is paramount when you work for a private company or multinational corporation and this pushes you to use your full potential to climb the career ladder. "Many locals go from university straight into the public sector lured by big paycheques and shorter work hours, but in some cases this can encourage laziness and a sense of entitlement that does not benefit the UAE workforce.

"The solution is for the government to subsidise private companies the way Kuwait does, so they can match the salaries being given by the public sector and encourage more locals to cross over," he said. @Email:kshaheen@thenational.ae