An electronics shop in Fujairah run solely by UAE citizens is being held up as as perfect example of Emiratisation.
Store promotes service with an Emirati smile
FUJAIRAH // Sayed Alhyamah is 35, Emirati, and works as a shop helper for an electronics store. And he's proud of it.
So are the other 30-or-so Emirati workers, from managers to cashiers, who run the Fujairah Century Mall branch of Sharaf DG.
The staff is exclusively national, apart from a few trainers, and is challenging the notion that Emiratis will not work in the private sector.
And it is not just for the money. Cashiers at the shop are paid between Dh6,000 and Dh9,000, with incentives for meeting targets.
"Many people ask me why I am not ashamed to work in this job," says Mr Alhyamah, a father of six. "They say, 'are you not scared to shame your brothers and cousins with this job?' But I do not think in this way.
"There is nothing shameful in working, regardless of the type of the job, as long as I am earning a living for my family and learning new skills and information.
"There are people who advise me to find a new job, but there are some who are more open-minded and respect what I do."
He says many customers are surprised to see him delivering their purchases to their cars, especially when he wears traditional dress.
His colleague Mohammed Abdullah, 28, who has a master's in engineering, believes Emirati opinions of the private sector are changing.
"The most remarkable encouragement we got was three weeks ago when the Deputy Ruler of Fujairah came and told us he was proud of us," Mr Abdullah says.
Mr Abdullah gave up his government job to join the store as an assistant manager about a month and a half ago.
"I wanted to develop my skills and this company has a good reputation, and they also offered me a better package than the Government," he says. "There were many questions and scepticism about what we as Emiratis would be able to achieve in these jobs.
"Among those questions was whether Emiratis would be able to serve expatriates in a respectful manner, such as addressing any customer with 'Sir', but we have proved that we have no such issues."
Mr Alhyamah worked for the Armed Forces for about 10 years before he married an expatriate and was forced to leave, which was the common practice at the time.
Before joining Sharaf DG he used to worked in customer services for another private company.
"Working in the private sector is partly a national duty. If we do not serve our country, who will?"
Mr Alhyamah says customers approach him when he wears a work uniform, but not when he wears a kandura.
"When customers enter the store they start scanning the place for a salesman, and when they find only Emiratis they feel awkward to approach him or her," he says.
"They always try to find an expatriate to help and they think I am one when I wear my uniform."
Amnah Samahi, 33, a cashier, says many of her compatriots attach a stigma to working in retail.
"When I first suggested the idea to my two brothers they warned me that this job might scare potential husbands away," Miss Samahi says. "They said they themselves would not marry a cashier."
But she was not to be discouraged.
"I did not bother about the warnings as I am personally not interested in a husband who thinks in this way and this view is changing for many," she says.
"I want to depend on myself and develop myself, and I felt that this job will give me this opportunity."
Staff work eight hours a day with one day off a week, but the company is looking at reducing the working hours for Emiratis to six hours to attract more.
Many of the workers are secondary-school graduates who trained in Dubai before the store opened.
"We also have conference-call training from inside the store for those women who cannot travel due to social restrictions," says Abdulla Siraj, the assistant manager for Emiratisation at Sharaf Group.
"We were able to attract [nationals] through attractive packages as well as providing training for them. One other main reason in being able to attract such a large number is that we did not ask for high qualifications and were prepared to train the new recruits."
Mariam Abdullah, 29, married with five children, works in customer service and says the store has challenged assumptions.
"This place has refuted all the assumptions about Emiratis being lazy and not willing to work," she says.
"There were those who doubted it could work but we have been able to run this store and have made it the talk of the city."