x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Emiratis need to fill specialist roles

The Federal National Council is calling for more nationals to train as skilled professionals rather than just administrative personnel, first in the federal ministries, then expanding to the private sector.

ABU DHABI // A Federal National Council (FNC) committee has called for the Government to hire more nationals despite Emiratisation rates that reach up to 98 per cent in some federal ministries.

They argue that the majority of Emiratis in the federal Government have administrative and management jobs, and there are not enough skilled professionals, but experts say that may not be the right answer to get more youths in jobs.

"The offices of a ministry have 850 to 900 employees, all of them administrators or managers," said Dr Sultan al Muazzin, the chairman of the health, labour and social affairs committee. "All of them are nationals. I'm talking about specialist jobs, like doctors and technicians - those are the ones I will need when I get sick."

One of the most comprehensive sets of figures on employment in the federal Government, tallied as recently as April last year and released this week by the FNC, detail the extent of Emiratisation in ministries and federal companies and authorities.

Although, on average, about 61 per cent of the employees in ministries and federally owned companies are Emirati, the figures are higher for certain ministries.

There are 46,137 individuals employed by the federal Government spanning 23 federal bodies listed in the report.

In 2008, Emiratis made up nearly 55 per cent of employees of federal bodies, a figure that increased to 58 per cent in 2009.

The Ministry of Labour and the National Transport Authority are 98 and 97 per cent Emirati, respectively. The ministries of youth and culture, public works, economy and social affairs have Emiratisation rates between 83 and 89 per cent.

The only federal bodies with staff levels that are less than 50 per cent Emirati are the Ministry of Health, at 35 per cent, and the National Media Council, at 42 per cent.

The majority of Emiratis in the ministries occupy administrative and management jobs.

The figures are substantially higher for a number of federal ministries than previously thought.

Dr al Muazzin argued that efforts to Emiratise the private sector have had limited success and could not be properly enforced, so the FNC should focus on job prospects in the federal Government, where it does have some jurisdiction.

"Can you govern the private sector? Can the Government force the private sector to Emiratise?" he said. "My jurisdiction at the FNC is the federal Government. Emiratise the federal ministries first, then start talking about the private sector."

Many companies had "circumvented the law", for instance, by hiring Emirati employees who were not expected to work - just to meet Emirati quota requirements, said Dr al Muazzin.

What the council wanted, however, was for the Emiratisation of the federal Government to focus on technical jobs. Dr al Muazzin also said more Emiratisation would help address unemployment.

But creating thousands of jobs for Emiratis in the public sector may not be the right way to address unemployment, say experts.

"Creating thousands of jobs just to absorb UAE nationals is not the right answer," said Dr Ingo Forstenlechner, from the faculty of business and economics at United Arab Emirates University. "It is important to place qualified Emiratis in jobs that they are well suited for, whether it is in the public or private sector."

Dr Forstenlechner said there were other obvious ways to address the issue and one was through career exploration initiatives, as well as redirecting funds towards training programmes.

"Structural problems have to be addressed, such as better education, motivation levels, as well as the presence of role models in the private sector," he said, adding there was not enough Emiratisation in either the private or public sector.

Mohammad Qaddura, the chief executive of ershaad.ae, a career site for UAE nationals and a provider of Emiratisation support services for employers, said his company has seen a change in mindset. "Over the last five years, private companies have started realising on a wider scale that UAE nationals have many advantages over expats," Mr Qaddura said, such as understanding the culture and having large social networks. Mr Qaddura said many Emiratis were more willing to work in the private sector, especially if there were opportunities for growth and training, even if they would need to take pay cuts.

Hamdan Mohamed, a business owner and president of the Arab Business Club in Dubai, said he was keen to train young Emiratis, and he even set up a website two years ago to help UAE nationals apply for jobs in the private and public sector.

Mr Mohamed said more needed to be done to encourage students to branch into the private sector. "As part of the Arab Business Club, I would be happy to train Emirati students and help set up internships through universities. I am sure that there are many young people out there who are willing to join the private sector and work for multinationals, however clear communication channels have to be established and this needs to be done in an organised and streamlined manner," he said.