Last week was the Careers UAE; a 3-day career fair held in Dubai and caters specifically to UAE national job seekers searching for jobs. This year will mark my tenth year attending the fair and speaking to employers as well as jobseekers. Although I often tend to be quite skeptical about how these career fairs work and the whole premise they are based on -more of that in another article- Yet, it was encouraging to see a number of private sector employers participating. What was even more encouraging was the fact that a good number of young Emiratis could be seen expressing interest in careers within the private sector. This is a sector that has largely been ignored by the majority of locals.
It came as no surprise to me during the fair that the number of Emiratis visiting the booths of the private sector employers was clearly nowhere close to the crowds of Emiratis flocking to the stands where the government and semi-government sector employers were exhibiting.
During the 3 day event, I witnessed clearly the interest one of the small government organizations gained from a line of job seekers, while right opposite stood the empty booth of a global multinational employer. The booth was manned by representatives who looked visibly bored. In another instance, I overheard a young Emirati lady emphasize more than once to the recruiter that “the most important thing to her was the salary and the working hours”.
Now, while it might still seem that the private sector employers exhibiting in the Career Fair could have managed to attract a decent size of interest from the Emirati job seekers attending this career fair; however, I must earnestly confess that I remain unconvinced that this truly qualifies as an indicator of a shift in attitude by Emirati job seekers towards the private sector.
I recalled right then the strong message His Highness Sheikh Abdallah Bin Zayed -UAE’S Minister of Foreign Affairs and a public figure many of the young locals look up
to – conveyed to UAE youth just a month ago in a public forum where he stated that the time has come for young Emiratis to “stop dreaming of government jobs” and instead look towards careers in the private sector or even consider entrepreneurship as a path.
I said to myself that we have a long way to go to achieve that shift in attitudes towards the private sector especially given the nature of obstacles. Some are rooted deep within the UAE society’s culture. I compiled a long list of obstacles, yet, I’ll stick to sharing only 5 of them here in this post. To read all the 10 reasons click here. The top 4 reasons why it is difficult to attract Emiratis to the private sector are as follows:
So I compiled a long list of what in my view as an Emirati who has been helping employers and job seekers in the UAE for the last 10 years are obstacles that face the efforts to get nationals into the private sector. I’ll stick to addressing only 4 of them at length here in this post. The top 10 reasons why it is difficult to attract Emiratis to the private sector are:
(1) The Government Sector
According to a research paper published by Abu Dhabi’s Khalifa Fund, around 91% of the employed Emirati youth –that’s approximately 142,500 youth- are employed in the public sector. What’s even interesting is the fact that although majority of the unemployed Emiratis are between the ages of 20 – 24 years (also known as ‘Millennials’), yet, surprisingly the majority of the Emirati youth in this segment still prefer a job in the public sector according to several research papers such as a paper published in 2016 by Dr. Georgia Daleure titled ‘Holistic Sustainability as Key to Emiratisation: Links between Job Satisfaction in the Private Sector and Young Emirati Adult Unemployment’.
The government sector in the UAE remains the preferred destination for Emiratis, despite various govt. officials admitting that the sector has reached a “saturation” point. I believe this will be extremely difficult to change as long as landing a job in the government sector continues to remain an option, albeit an easier and more attractive option than choosing a career in the private sector or becoming a ‘full-time’ entrepreneur.
(2) Peer and Family Pressure
An Emirati friend of mine once explained to me his theory on why it was difficult to convince more Emiratis to look at the private sector or becoming an entrepreneur as a career choice. He broke it down to me in simple English that “Emiratis always follow other Emiratis, regardless if it was the best choice for them or not”. He had explained what seems to be a complex problem to what could be an inherited characteristic of the Emirati culture.
The UAE culture can be categorized as a ‘collectivist’ society as opposed to an ‘individualist’ society’ based on Dutch social psychologist ‘Geert Hofstede’ and his framework to assess the cultural features of society.
Granted that a ‘collective society’ has its unique strengths and values, what concerns me is that at times the ‘collective’ nature of our society can –without proper interventions – lead to a number of negative attitudes I have personally observed among many of the Emirati youth; such as the lack of a clear purpose, self-confidence, entitlement and attachment of comfort zones.
(3) Unfamiliar Environment
“I don’t know how an expatriate boss would deal with workplace conflict or disagreement; I don’t think I would be able to express myself freely during a disagreement”, ““At government jobs, there are more people with similar backgrounds”, “private companies rarely employ any UAE Nationals”. These are some of the familiar statements made by Emiratis interviewed for a survey I found online by an international consulting firm.
I’ve always held the view that majority of private sector employers continue to position themselves in the eyes of the Emirati society as “isolated mysterious islands” whether it is done intentionally or not. The nature of the Emirati society craves familiarity and is fairly risk-averse. This means committing to a career with a company that is not well known, and in an unfamiliar work environment is perceived as risky by Emirati youth as well as their family and friends.
(4) The private sector lacks a compelling narrative (A.K.A Employer Value Proposition)
Here’s a true story that was narrated to me by a young Emirati who had attended an interview with a multinational company when had just graduated. During the interview, the interviewer who was a senior manager in the company pulled out a pen from his pocket and asked the Emirati the classic question: “In the next 3 minutes, I want you to sell me this pen for five thousand dirhams”. The Emirati took a few moments to think about the question, and answered: “Well, you first sir, you convince me what makes your company special, and why I should work for you and If you convince me, I promise you I can sell your pen for the amount you want”.
If anything, this story demonstrates that a compelling “why” is important to attracting nationals to a career in the private sector. I’ve met so many employers as a consultant or as a Headhunter and when I ask them, the narrative I hear from most of them does not spark the imagination or enthusiasm of prospective local talent.
In case you were wondering, my friend eventually ‘aced’ the interview and landed that job.
The following are other reasons why I believe convincing national youth to join the private sector continues to be a difficult undertaking which I will address in future posts. These are: (5) Unattractive salaries and benefits, (6) no clear proposition of impact on society and the country, (7) an obsessive attachment to comfort zones, (8) concerns over job security in the private sector, (9) the entitlement complex and (10) lack of interest from many private sector employers
P.S. If you are interested in a meeting to assess what your organization can do to attract more locals, drop me an email.
P.P.S. If you are an HR professional and you are interested in hearing me personally speak about the topic along with other people passionate about the topic, join us in our seminar in Dubai on the 8th & 9th of May. Just drop me an email with your title and name of your company. Limited seats available. The seminar is organized by international consultancy Cut-e and my company TBH Consultancy
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