x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

'Fear of change' stalls job growth

Emirates are forced to bring labourers from abroad because locals will not take opportunities, officials say.

Residents in both emirates criticised the plans, calling on local governments instead to tackle unemployment and invest in key infrastructure before building new resorts, housing and tourism developments.
Residents in both emirates criticised the plans, calling on local governments instead to tackle unemployment and invest in key infrastructure before building new resorts, housing and tourism developments.

The head of the agency responsible for eliminating unemployment among Emiratis has issued a stinging response to criticism by residents in the northern emirates complaining about the pace of development and construction.

Residents were "refusing to embrace modernity and are far behind other emirates in terms of education, employment and liberalism", said Feddah Lootah, general manager of Tanmia, the National Human Resource Development and Employment Authority. The National reported last week that Rakeen, the Ras al Khaimah Government's property developer, had plans to draft 200,000 workers to build Dh5 billion (US$1.3bn) worth of projects in the emirate. Developers in Ajman estimated they would also need to import a workforce of similar size.

But residents in both emirates criticised the plans, calling on local governments instead to tackle unemployment and invest in key infrastructure before building new resorts, housing and tourism developments. "We never asked for any of these developments," a RAK official said. "We are already a minority in our own country." Miss Lootah argued that such developments were meant specifically to create jobs for locals.

"The reason why these developments were planned was to get Emiratis applying for jobs instead of waiting for a job that might not come," said Miss Lootah, dismissing much of the criticism as "fear of change". "Residents of RAK and Ajman are afraid to modernise because they are stuck in the past and are far too conservative," she said. "The reason why there is the need to bring in so many foreign labourers is because too few Emiratis in those emirates have bothered to apply for serious jobs." According to Tanmia, there are 17,000 unemployed Emiratis in the UAE.

Currently there are 1,249 jobs available through the organisation, which next year will announce new assessment methods to match students' skills to relevant training and jobs. Miss Lootah said Emiratis living in the northern emirates were not proactive when it came to looking for work, thanks in part to outmoded social and cultural values. But more important, an ageing schools curriculum and old-fashioned academic qualifications failed to equip locals in the northern emirates with the necessary skills to fill vacancies in the burgeoning engineering and construction sectors.

"Students in emirates such as Ajman, Ras al Khaimah and Fujairah usually don't get the guidance that students in Sharjah and Dubai get," said Miss Lootah. As a result, they "often decide to read courses that are not in demand by the public and private sector and those degrees are the reason why so many go years without work. Tailor-made degrees should be made available in those areas." Companies in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, she said, hesitated to employ people from those emirates because of out-dated and unrecognisable qualifications. Women especially, said Miss Lootah, were paying a high price for the conservative attitudes. "Women are not allowed to study scientific subjects and are restricted," she said. "Women are the biggest victims of this. Families also don't encourage their daughters to work - that is something that we need to address."

Mohammed Saif al Afham, the general manager of Fujairah Municipality, said he empathised with the fears of Emiratis struggling to cope with the rapid changes sweeping through the country. "There is some worry among the locals that they feel like they are disappearing - their language, their dress, the things that make Emiratis feel unique," he said. "There is a thinking that goes something like, 'Why when we go to Europe we wear suits, but Europeans who come here don't wear dishdashas; that I have to speak English and other languages in my own country?'," he said. "I sit with them. I know what they think."

Nevertheless, he said, modernisation was inevitable, and desirable, but it was vital to find a way to make the transition as sensitive as possible. "What's going on here is modernisation and modernisation will never stop, never," he said. "There needs to be a balance somehow - we need to balance for the locals as well as for the investors, who bring in foreign workers. I understand apprehension of locals, it's real, but we need more development, too.

"You will lose some tradition and habits, but you must strike a healthy balance." What was needed, he said, was "a better system to integrate locals into these developments so they create jobs and more opportunities for the locals". Miss Lootah conceded that job opportunities for Emiratis in the northern and eastern emirates were in short supply, but said the many hospitality and construction projects that were planned could bridge the unemployment gap.

Yet many Emiratis, she said, had rejected Tanmia's attempts to help them into the workplace. "We have 15 projects aimed at getting Emiratis into hospitality jobs in places like Fujairah," she said. "But they are stuck in their past traditional ways without realising what we are doing is there to help them. Young women should be allowed to study the subjects they want and work in their emirate." * The National