Returning to the UAE after years of study in New York involves a process of adjusting, and seeing how things could be done better, writes Fatima Al Shamsi.
With local talent, employers should think outside the box
In the past few months I have found myself not only transitioning from university into the workplace, but also transitioning from having lived abroad since birth to moving to my native Abu Dhabi. Like any life change, I found myself both excited and apprehensive. While I was sure that my job prospects would be a lot better than in New York City, where I had lived, I was worried the move would prove to be a draining journey through different cultural expectations.
While Abu Dhabi, and the UAE in general, has gone above and beyond to help Emiratis find jobs with programmes like Tawteen, job fairs and the many other Emiratisation policies that are in place, I found it challenging to find work that fitted my specific education, skills and background.
I was accustomed to looking up jobs by doing my research about the organisation I was interested in and applying directly for specific positions. And while I was presented with great opportunities by multiple employers as soon as I started my job hunt, I found myself being called in for interviews without being told about the position I was being interviewed for. Based on my previous experiences both in the United States and in Europe, I was used to establishing a mutual interest between candidate and company before beginning the application process.
Thus far in my career, part-time jobs and internships were factors that set you apart from other candidates, so it was disheartening to be told over and over again by employers here that my previous experiences were not “real jobs”. I believe that internships are learning opportunities that allow you to explore different career options.
Even more surprising was the fact that most places told me that they did not differentiate between education levels, specifically between having a bachelor degree and having a master. While I value education for my own personal development, this country is spending a lot of time, effort and funds on multiple scholarship programmes and there should be a way to value these extra years of work and research when the student enters the job market.
While I was impressed with the Government employment initiatives, I found that a lot of what was available was limited. There was no real appreciation for different skill sets or background. Many places assumed I came from an Emirati educational background despite explaining that I was not born or raised here.
This caused a problem when I was told I was expected to work in a full Arabic environment. While I was up for the opportunity to improve my writing skills, since I had never been formally educated in Arabic, I was told that English-language jobs were reserved for foreigners and, in some cases, teased despite the fact that my proficiency in Arabic is not far behind that of many friends who were born and raised in Abu Dhabi.
I think being proficient in Arabic is important, a really valuable skill as well as a source of cultural pride, but the reality is that there is an emphasis on English everywhere. As a result, working in Arabic is an issue that even those educated here face when entering the workforce. Thus, there needs to be more understanding from the hiring side and better preparation of students.
In order to full take advantage of the new markets that are cropping up due to evolving technologies, there should be more procedures that take into consideration the different skills that this new generation has to offer. The goal should not only be to match them to the expanding markets that we have, but also to bring about smoother transitions into the workforce that can cater to these new specialisations. My sister, for example, was repeatedly told that being a publisher or book editor was the same as being a journalist or working in media and communications.
In terms of expanding what job opportunities are available to Emiratis, we need more social acceptance of “non-traditional” desk jobs, such as those that focus on content creation and development, as well as various art forms (whether digital or physical).
Entities such as twofour54 have been making huge strides, both with jobs and their educational programmes (partnering with Ubisoft, for example, to allow Emiratis to explore video game design), but more can be done to not only encourage students to pursue these careers in the educational stages, but also encourage society as a whole to see them as viable job opportunities.
Fatima Al Shamsi is an Emirati who recently returned from New York City after pursuing a master’s degree in Global Affairs at NYU