x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

ICAEW accountancy scheme helps train Emiratis for the private sector

The Life: Mohammed Zamani, an Emirati accountant, is part of a new programme to provide professional training through the private sector.

Mohammed Zamani, left, who is training to be a qualified UK chartered accountant, with Eddy Winters of ICAEW Middle East. Jeff Topping / The National
Mohammed Zamani, left, who is training to be a qualified UK chartered accountant, with Eddy Winters of ICAEW Middle East. Jeff Topping / The National

Although Mohammed Zamani could have worked more sociable hours in the public sector, he decided to work 10-hour days at a private-sector multinational - and then go home each night to study for a postgraduate qualification.

Crazy? He certainly doesn't think so.

The Emirati, 22, from Dubai says he had opportunities to work in a more relaxed role, but he chose to work in the private sector to gain international experience at an early stage in his career.

"I think Emiratis can't rely only on the public sector anymore," he says. "The experience in the private sector, especially at the international companies, is much better than the public sector."

The fresh-faced graduate now works at KPMG and is training to be a qualified accountant under the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales (ICAEW). He is one of five Emirati students hand-picked by ICAEW to lead its programme to give graduates a better shot at achieving a postgrad qualification while working for professional services firms.

In the US, UK and much of Europe, graduates are placed on similar training schemes, where companies offer them a competitive wage, pay all their exam and teaching fees, and allow plenty of time off to study.

Given this support, accountancy firms report a much higher pass rate among staff and hope it instils an element of loyalty.

Companies in the Emirates have been slow to develop this approach, with trainee accountants having to study in their own time outside working hours, with little teaching support.

ICAEW is trying to facilitate change through its Emiratisation Scholarship Scheme, which it has convinced the "Big Four" accountancy firms - KPMG, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Deloitte and Ernst & Young - to take part in.

Increasing Emirati participation in the private sector continues to be an important challenge for many companies. The telecommunications operator du announced last week it would recruit 220 UAE nationals to run its call centre in Fujairah.

In partnership with ICAEW, the accountancy firms give the five trainees 10 weeks off to study in addition to their normal annual leave, send them back to school for weeks at a time, and pay about 20 per cent more in salaries than peers in the UK.

Amanda Line, the regional director for the ICAEW, says she has been "incredibly impressed" by the Emirati intake.

"The days when Emiratis went into jobs where they could leave at 3, those days are going to be behind us because they realise they need to be competitive in the future," Ms Line says. "Mohammed is an Emirati who works 10 hours a day and then goes home and studies, so don't tell me the story that Emiratis don't know how to work hard."

Mr Zamani graduated from the University of Sharjah in January with a major in finance and now works in KPMG's audit department examining the accounts of financial institutions.

"If I open my company in the future I can use much of what I gained from the qualification, I can use that in the public [sector], private sector and in many different areas," he says.

Although the programme is aimed at UAE nationals, Ms Line hopes the scheme will eventually go beyond being an Emiratisation programme and become the industry norm in the UAE.

"The big four were keen because of the qualification. Training accountants gives them a competitive edge," she says. "There's also a culture shift in investing properly in training and development programmes rather than in hiring in cheaper labour."

rjones@thenational.ae