Young Emiratis have said they remain unconvinced to pursue a career in the private sector despite government efforts to encourage them to move away from traditional government jobs.
Speaking at the second day of the Mohamed bin Zayed Majlis for Future Generations, Emirati students said they need working conditions and benefits to match those of government jobs to be convinced.
At present, government employees typically have more time off for public holidays than private sector workers and for Emiratis, in many cases, salaries are higher for public sector workers when compared to private sector employees.
On Tuesday, Nasser Al Hameli, Minister of Human Resources and Emiratisation, said the government was working on changes to make private sector employment more attractive to Emiratis.
Speaking to The National about reducing the discrepancy between public and private sector benefits, Mr Al Hameli said “in terms of leave and vacations, that is something the government is currently working on and hopefully in the near future we will equalise it.”
He said the young Emiratis lacked an understanding about private sector “dynamics” because their parents worked in government.
“There is no way for them to reach the private sector and to understand what it consists of. For us to achieve our ultimate goals, we need to promote the private sector," he said.
Believing that the salaries and benefits in the public sector are better than the private is a “stereotype”, the minister said.
“You need to compare apples with apples. The private sector has many opportunities that pay even better than the government," Mr Al Hameli said.
Alia Al Derei, 23, who attended the majlis with her sister on Tuesday, said she would prefer to at least begin her career in the public sector.
“I might prefer to work for the government just after I graduate, but in the future I may work in the private sector,” said Alia, a student at UAE University.
“We are familiar with the government sector. If I see seniors go to the private sector and tell me about their experiences, I may be encouraged to work in the private sector.”
But she said working conditions would need to be adjusted to make the prospect more attractive.
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“If they improve the salary and working hours, more Emiratis like myself would want to work in the private sector. I have heard people have to work for 12-13 hours in the private sector," Alia said.
"If they make this eight hours, it would encourage us to work in this sector. We don’t want to go to work when everyone is on holiday.”
Alia said maternity leave is another important benefit to consider since “women want to take care of their children as well as do their jobs.”
Suaad Al Hosani, an International Affairs student at Zayed University, said many of the older generations, who worked in government, encourage their children to do the same.
“They think ‘they worked in that area, so it’s the best’. But, now a lot has changed. The private sector can improve our skills and give us the best opportunities. We can be leaders in the private sector,” said Ms Al Hosani, 21, before conceding: “but offering better leave and benefits would be helpful for us.”
Sulaiman Al Noamani, a pupil at Khalifa Bin Zayed School, is deterred from working in the private sector because his English is not strong but hoped the experience would help him improve.
“I have to focus on this language to make it easier for me. If I take a job in the private sector and they help me to improve me English, it would help me a lot,” the pupil, 18, said.
“Public sector salaries are higher but if private sector offers a salary that is enough for me, I would take the job.”
Saif Al Aseeri, who also attends Khalifa Bin Zayed School, said the subjects he decides to study will determine whether where he chooses to work.
“We should choose the sector depending on what area we are working in. I’m okay with either sector, but my parents encourage me to work in the government sector.
"The private sector can encourage us by offering scholarships so that we can get a stipend," he said.
Khuloud Al Naqbi, an 18-year-old chemical engineering student at UAE University, said her family also encouraged her to work in government.
Though she insisted that she is not driven by a better salary, Ms Al Naqbi said “better options, more leave and benefits would encourage me to join and stay in the private sector."