Emiratisation quotas won’t help boost the number of Emiratis in the labour market,  a leading Oxford-based professor has warned. He says work experience is the way forward if more Emiratis are to join the private sector.
The UAE’s public sector employment market is almost saturated and the Emiratisation quota system in the private sector has failed to meet targets.
The quota system was introduced by the Ministry of Labour more than a decade ago to increase the presence of Emiratis in the labour market, mainly in banks, insurance firms and commercial companies.
Nearly 20,000 of the four million people in private businesses are Emirati, according to the 2011 Labour Report, released by the National Bureau of Statistics late last year.
Professor William Scott-Jackson of Oxford Strategic Consulting, who recently led a presentation called “Building local talent in the Oil and Gas Sector” at the Oil & Gas HR Summit at the Hotel Sofitel in Abu Dhabi Corniche on November 20-21, proposed training instead of quotas saying that employers must focus on giving young Emiratis work experience before they apply for jobs.
He said employers are missing out on a key opportunity to train young Emiratis and give them the right skills to find jobs in key roles when they graduate from college.
Training before employment, he says, will help employers develop the right skills in young Emiratis so they are attractive candidates for employment when they are older, and help youngsters find jobs in key roles easily.
He argues quotas might seem a good idea but in reality they make employers focus on just filling targets for the sake of achieving the target, rather than building long-term solutions to Emiratisation and a dedicated and highly-skilled Emirati workforce that is valuable to the organisation. 
Eye-opening new research from Oxford Strategic Consulting  shows that a huge 76 per cent of young Emiratis in high school have not been involved in any activity to do with work at all.
This includes failing to take part in work placement schemes, voluntary work, careers events and part-time work.
Yet the demand for work experience exists as 81 per cent of UAE educators think that Emiratis in high school would benefit from the increased responsibility that employment can give.
Despite relatively high Emirati unemployment, UAE employers are struggling to find the right employees with suitable skills and experience, so the focus should be on how to nurture these skills in all Emiratis.
Research shows that employers need to get involved in education at an early age to build the right skills in the workforce, and to overcome the root causes of Emiratisation.
They also need to attract skilled Emiratis and understand what motivates them — not just money but also factors such as a strong desire to help their country, serve society and make their families proud.
Professor Scott-Jackson says every Emirati should be encouraged and helped to achieve their maximum potential to make them attractive to employers as a valuable asset, rather than forcing employers to take on a quota which may be seen as “an unwanted burden”.
“One of the best ways to help young Emiratis achieve their maximum potential is for employers to work closely with colleges and schools and teach young people about the world of work and how to find the job of their dreams. Young people are hungry for this knowledge — and it must be given to them at an early age.”
Emirati students agreed that a lack of career orientation, poor English language teaching and work placement schemes were the main challenges they face.
However, Shaikha Al Maskari, an Emirati writer from Abu Dhabi, says employing citizens should not be viewed negatively or seen as charity work.
“It should be an obligation on the part of every organisation in the UAE to showcase its commitment to the country.”