x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 16 December 2017

The right skill set and family support encourage Emirati students to start businesses: study

A study for UAE University questioned Emirati students what factors would make them consider entrepreneurship rather than a government job

Al Ain SME Forum and Exhibition in April is a way to connect directly with young entrepreneurs. Reem Mohammed / The National
Al Ain SME Forum and Exhibition in April is a way to connect directly with young entrepreneurs. Reem Mohammed / The National

Most young Emirati adults still aspire to work in the public sector but academic Dr Noora Al Saiqal has investigated what factors might persuade them to consider becoming self-made entrepreneurs.

“Entrepreneurship is important for achieving economic development, growth and diversification and, most importantly, job creation thorough self-employment,” Dr Al Saiqal said in the academic paper she wrote at the United Arab Emirates University, UAE Youth Entrepreneurial Intention: Exploring the Factors That Impact on The Choice of Entrepreneurship (Self-Employment) As A Career Option Based On The Theory Of Planned Behaviour, which she will present at the International Conference on Organisation and Management this month.

The focus on self-employment through entrepreneurship has picked up steam since the Government launched the UAE Vision 2021 seven years ago calling for a diverse and knowledge-based economy. Now, with high youth unemployment and an increasingly limited supply of competitive public sector jobs, the spotlight on entrepreneurship needs to intensify so that society can shift its perception about the value of owning a private business and rely less on the Government for employment, said Dr Al Saiqal.

Last year, 33.5 per cent of all bachelor-degree holders in Abu Dhabi – including citizens and non-citizens -- were unemployed, according to the most recent edition of the Statistical Yearbook of Abu Dhabi.

“Unemployment has become very high among UAE youth and if we keep everything like this in the near future we will face many social and economic obstacles to handle this issue,” said Dr Al Saiqa. “One of the ways – and it is like a potential way – to solve unemployment problem especially among the youth is entrepreneurship.”

To find out what could influence young Emirati adults to consider opening their own businesses, Dr Al Saiqal and the study’s co-author Dr James Ryan, issued an online survey to Emirati university and college students studying engineering and business both at home and abroad. The “entrepreneur intention” questionnaire asked participants to rate their knowledge of the business world, rank their own entrepreneurial skills and describe their likelihood of choosing an entrepreneurial career. The researchers also gathered data about the respondents’ family and social circles. Most of the 544 participants were between 21 and 23 years old, and nearly two-thirds (70.2 per cent) were women.

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The study found three main factors that can influence a student’s decision to become an entrepreneur: positive attitude toward owning a business; have the skills to be self-employed and family endorsement.

“We found that all of these things are significantly influential in predicting who might be an entrepreneur,” said Dr Ryan. “So, if we can increase people’s positive attitudes toward entrepreneurship, if we can increase their skillset – provide them with core skills and training on writing business plans and feeling confident in dealing with banks or knowing where to get funds or knowing how to go through the official process to start a business, all these kind of basic training things that we can provide – that’s going to help.”

But the critical factor for young Emirati adults is family support, said Dr Al Saiqal.

“UAE families play an important role in shaping the career path of their kids and many initiatives neglect to study the effect of the family when they start their initiatives,” said Dr Al Saiqal. “We need to consider the effect of family, we need to change their minds and opinions regarding working in different sectors, including the private sector, and their attitudes about the attractiveness of this option among youth.”

She said: “We need to change the attitudes. We also need to change the attitudes of the families, we need to include them in the initiatives, we need to get the support from them.”

Dr Ryan agree, adding: “UAE nationals are very sensitive to the views and opinions of their family, their friends, their immediate community. So, I think one of the most significant things about this study is that if we really want to promote entrepreneurship, we have to look past just the potential entrepreneur. We have to look at the larger community and see how we can engage the larger community to be supportive and encouraging of the entrepreneur.”