Emiratis struggle to break the stereotype in employment
Getting gainful employment is a problem... Four months ago, 26-year-old Rashid Bin Hendi was fed up. His work at an international company in Dubai was unfulfilling and his request to move departments had fallen on deaf ears. As a young, educated Emirati, Rashid wanted a challenge.
“I explained that I just wanted to change departments, I just want to learn — I didn’t want a bigger salary,” he explained. “They were very reluctant.” Rashid, who has since moved to HSBC bank, is typical of a growing portion of UAE society, and one that will only increase in footprint in the coming years. A 2009 survey found that 200,000 young Emiratis were expected to join the workforce by 2019, and an estimated 14 percent were unemployed. It is by no means a problem specific to the UAE. The population of the GCC is expected to reach 53.5 million by 2020, a 30 percent increase over 2000, and more than 60 percent of that population is under 30. The survey concluded that millions of jobs will have to be created in order to meet that growth. The middle class in the Gulf is growing and, Aon Hewitt’s study revealed, even the portions of it that are currently employed are, like Rashid before he joined his new company, unhappy in their jobs.
“Among those seeking employment, those with higher levels of education are more likely to experience unemployment for longer periods than their less-educated counterparts,” explained the author of the report, David Jones, chief consulting officer at Aon Hewitt. “This is a consistent trend across the region.”
Matthew Gribble, managing director of Michael Page Middle East, suggests that the main challenge for this sector of UAE youth was complex. One would think that this portion of the middle class would find it easiest to get jobs, but a lack of experience seems to be holding many back. “If a national is highly educated and experienced, then they would be the most employable and in demand and could get a job any day of the week,” Gribble said. “But if they have got education and not experience it becomes more difficult.”
Then there is the issue of the public sector, the proverbial elephant in the room. The governments of the UAE and Qatar approved significant public sector pay rises at the end of last year, persuading even more nationals — a huge majority of whom are employed in the public sector — to stay where they are. “The public sector is saturated in terms of its employment prospects going forward,” said Jones, pointing out that the ratio of state jobs to private sector jobs in the UAE is the highest in the world. “The rest of the world is shifting that back towards the private sector. “In the last year we have even seen that get expanded even further, massive pay increases and big extensions in contracts.”
Michael Page’s Gribble also believes that middle class Emiratis remain desirable in terms of recruitment for the private sector. “What it comes down to is that nationals are not going to need as much work when it comes to building a network,” he said. “And that will offset the other deficiencies that they might have.”
Others point out that expectations are too high among the emerging Emirati middle class. Writing in Gulf News recently, Ahmad Ganoum, principal consultant at TCO Management Consulting, pointed out that for entry level private sector positions, undergraduates expect Dh17,000 to Dh20,000 monthly pay, compared to the Dh4,000 to Dh10,000 most entities are prepared to offer. But it is the attitude of the private sector too, in Rashid’s view, that is at fault. In the experience of both he and his friends, many companies see fulfilling quotas and keeping themselves on side with the Central Bank and government benchmarks as the primary reason for hiring nationals.
Rashid feels that stereo-typing of nationals means that companies are reluctant to bring them on board. Employers tend to see all nationals as wealthy rather than — as in his case — middle class. “I’m not someone who has got a lot of businesses, I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth,” he said. “I drive a Toyota Yaris.”