x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Job summit targets Emiratis in workforce

A summit in Dubai focuses on improving the job prospects of GCC nationals.

One of the main issues raised during the opening day of the summit was the skewed perception that employers had of the capabilities of the national workforce across the GCC.
One of the main issues raised during the opening day of the summit was the skewed perception that employers had of the capabilities of the national workforce across the GCC.

DUBAI // A young Emirati woman who worked as a human-resources specialist in the private sector resigned to take a job at a government agency where she doubled her salary, a career expert said yesterday.

But the job switch was not about money.

"When I asked her why, she said, 'To be honest, it is not because of the salary, but now I will have time to talk to my husband'," said Dr Selim Sadek, the vice president of strategies and development at UAE Academy.

Speaking yesterday on the opening day of the sixth annual GCC Nationalisation Summit at the Grand Millennium Hotel in Dubai, Dr Sadek said his example highlighted one of the challenges facing private-sector employers who were required to attract, retain and develop Emiratis.

Dr Sadek argued that a more holistic mindset was needed for the Government, employees and employers to improve the rate of national employment.

"All of us, with no exceptions, are looking from the outside, and we are trying to solve the issue thinking we need regulations, quotas, subsidisation, training. But are we really looking on the inside?" Dr Sadek asked.

"We do not need to change the regulations, the market or the working hours, but the mind of those decision-makers," he said.

One of the main issues, he said, was the skewed perception that employers had of the capabilities of the national workforce across the GCC. In part, he said, this perception was rooted in government regulations that mandated the hiring of nationals in the private sector.

Last year, for example, the Ministry of Labour decreed that at least 15 per cent of positions across all private industry should be reserved for Emiratis. Companies that fail to follow the Emiratisation policy may be fined Dh15,000 to Dh20,000 per offence.

"Quota ... would anybody attending this summit today accept to be a quota? Would you like someone to say to you that they will hire you to fill a certain percentage?" he asked the audience.

If Emiratis continued to be made to feel they were a burden and a quota, they were unlikely to take up jobs in the private sector, preferring to move to a more secure government position, he said.

This attitude was buttressed by families who did not trust the private sector and preferred the more stable public-sector jobs.

Another key issue highlighted by Dr Sadek was that some private-sector employers hired Emiratis to comply with regulations, but did not utilise their skills once they were on the job.

Mr Sadek recalled the case of a young man in a Gulf state who was only called in to work whenever an inspector from the labour ministry was expected to show up.

He also highlighted other barriers that employers erected by seemingly placing unrealistic expectations on job seekers.

By making Emiratis feel welcome and optimising their potential, private-sector owners would also be fulfilling their obligations to society, he said.

"It is very important to consider the employment process not as a quota but as a social responsibility," he said.

Sara Khoja, a senior associate at Clyde & Co legal consultants, said some clients did perceive nationalisation as more of a compliance issue than one that could help improve the labour force.

"Some of them see it as a compliance issue, these laws are there and that they have to comply with them like a tick box exercise," said Ms Khoja.

"I think what is important to note is that when we talk about nationals as a special group of people in a workplace, that can sometimes lead to segmentation."

Ms Khoja noted that the requirements for hiring GCC nationals had been beneficial in giving them new job opportunities.

She said nationalisation worked "because it got people through the door, but we are not yet at a stage where we do not need it, because it still makes people think, 'I should be doing this'".

In another presentation on training at the summit, developing employees to their potential was highlighted, including the importance of taking into account different learning styles in training programmes.

"The critical thing is that we must change our perception because it is wrong to look at learners making mistakes as a trial and error process, because that is normal. So to label it as a mistake is a failure," said John Mowatt, a consultant at Emirates Business Consulting.

"When you do not take into consideration the learning curve, people become outsiders."

Mr Mowatt noted that training departments had to do a better job of retaining staff.

"You have to be clear when are people ready to move," he said. "Nationals can be fast-tracked if you have the right programme ... you have to have solid on-the-job training."