Opinion: Emiratisation and the road ahead for the private sector

Author: Abdulla Aleter | Date: 24 Aug 2016

By focusing on talent development rather than filling quotas, employers can attract talented nationals, says Abdulla Aleter

Abdulla AleterA report by the Federal National Council (FNC) highlighted that there are 3.8 million jobs in the UAE’s private sector and at least 800,000 of those can be filled by citizens. But so far only 20,000 to 30,000 Emiratis are employed in private organisations.
 
Emirati nationals, by and large, still perceive the public sector to be a more attractive employer, for reasons ranging from superior employment benefits to a lack of awareness of private sector opportunities. One of the priorities for the nation has therefore been to encourage greater participation of UAE nationals in the private sector.
 
The partial quota system, stipulating a minimum percentage of private sector employees as UAE nationals, was proposed as a solution. It was first used in the banking sector, with a 1996 law specifying that at least four per cent of bank employees had to be Emirati, with this minimum expected to be increased year on year. This system was broadened in late 2010, with the Ministry of Labor announcing that Emiratis should account for no less than 15 per cent of total staff at every UAE-based company.
 
Still, attracting top-notch Emirati talent to the private sector continues to be a challenge. The reasons can range from mismatched expectations between the individual and the company, disillusionment on the part of Emiratis because of a perceived lack of long-term career opportunities, to companies perhaps focusing more on quantity rather than quality when fulfilling Emiratisation goals.
 
Staff engagement means talent development
At a ‘LinkedIn Breakfast Club’ networking session organised by National Bank of Fujairah, where 18 senior executives from different industries gathered to share their Emiratisation experiences and best practices, there was unanimous agreement on the need for organisations to actively engage with Emirati employees and their aspirations. True, the usual practical concerns for any job-seeking or working UAE national – or anybody else for that matter - such as pay and benefits, an organisation’s reputation and location of employment, will not go away. But when you actively engage them and show that you are fully committed to supporting their long-term aspirations and career goals, it is certainly possible for the private sector to recruit and retain good Emirati talent.
 
At the NBF-LinkedIn breakfast, further stories abounded of organisations winning over Emirati hearts and minds: Cleveland Clinic proactively coaches shortlisted candidates to ace interviews with its senior management, while Emirates NBD sends finance graduates from its management trainee programme to an international accounting firm for further training. Such efforts make sense: even if these Emirati recruits do not join your organisation in the end, your willingness to guide them onwards in their careers will have created a lasting impression, not to mention equipping them with the skills to make meaningful contributions to the country.
 
A commitment to quality, not quantity
Ultimately, with Emiratisation being a national imperative for the UAE, corporations here have a social obligation to ensure they are not just hiring merely to fill a vacancy or, worse, meet quotas. It is about instilling an organisational commitment to nurture talent so they are equipped to not only excel professionally, but to develop the confidence and ability to maximise their potential and fulfil their dreams.
 
I am therefore very hopeful of a new points-based Emiratisation system currently being explored by the federal government. To be launched in the banking and insurance sectors in early 2017, this aims to incentivise organisations to shift from a “meet the quota” mindset to a focus on quality when recruiting UAE nationals. Points will be awarded for organisations that fulfil a series of Emiratisation criteria, ranging from the number of training hours per staff member to the number of Emiratis appointed to senior roles.
 
By maintaining a focus on talent development, employers in the private sector are well-positioned to attract talented UAE nationals into their fold. It is only when you have the long-term career interests of your Emirati staff at heart that your company – and the local economy as a whole – will truly benefit.
 
Abdulla Aleter is head of human resources at the National Bank of Fujairah.