By Khaled Al Ameri

As the “Year of Emiratisation” draws towards a close, the FNC is discussing the incorporation of a law to drive forward Emirati employment in the private sector and decrease the high rates of unemployment among the UAE’s national population.

Although I think such a law might be a quick-fix remedy it definitely comes with its own challenges. Here are a few things we all should be aware of should such a law comed to be enforced.

According to figures, Emiratis make up 0.5 per cent of the entire private sector workforce and 60 per cent of the public sector workforce.

The two biggest factors that cause this difference are the higher salaries and shorter working hours on offer in some government departments.

Now, hypothetically speaking, let us say the UAE implemented a law requiring that UAE nationals account for between 10 and 20 per cent of every private company’s workforce. How do you think the private sector would react?

They would probably look to comply with this law in the easiest and cheapest possible way, hiring nationals for support roles and part-time positions.

The private sector would likely indulge in a numbers game to comply with regulations, rather than take the initiative to truly grow and develop a workforce made up of a greater percentage of Emiratis.

Instead of enforcing a quota on the private sector, we should incentivise companies through government grants and support.

For any sort of Emiratisation initiative to succeed in the private sector it has to be a win-win situation for both the government and the companies it affects.

With shareholders and financiers to keep happy and report to, a private company’s hiring strategy has to be linked to the overall value each new hire brings to the organisation – and UAE nationals must be part of that rule, not the exception to it.

Dr Mona Al Bahar, an FNC member, made the point that relying on a foreign workforce is a threat to national security. I believe it is important that the national security debate is balanced by a strong focus on economic prosperity and sustainability.

When international companies import foreign expertise, these workers bring with them best practices, years worth of knowledge, a history of human development systems and business processes.

The UAE has thrived on the basis of an international workforce working hand-in-hand with Emiratis, and if any Emiratisation law comes at the cost of the continued success of that relationship, then it would certainly do more harm than good.

Call me an idealist, but when I think of Emiratis in the private sector, I aspire to see executives at Fortune 500 companies, as engagement managers at big-four consultancies and as financiers at global banks.

I also found it interesting that the FNC chose to speak about private sector employment from a blue-collar perspective, when it posed the question: “Why can’t Emiratis work in maintenance inside houses?”

Now, I want to point out that any type of honest employment deserves respect and that no work is below any of us.

It causes me a little concern, however, when officials are thinking of maintenance as an industry ripe for more local involvement. Especially when we have banks, hospitals, schools and the technology sector with little Emirati representation.

Again, I should stress that having an Emirati repairwomen or man is nothing to frown upon, but it rather misses the point of the broader discussion. We as a nation should be focusing on building intellectual talent, financing internships in key sectors and facilitating world-class vocational training in line with the country’s future economic plans.

This may be the longer and harder road to take, but it is the price we should pay to make the greatest impact and develop a workforce that is diversified, skilled and ready to take on the world.

The Emiratisation debate has gone on for a long period. It was an issue when our fathers were young executives. It has been an issue during our careers. We cannot afford to have another generation deal with these issues. This problem ends with us.

We have all the necessary ingredients to overcome the unemployment and Emiratisation challenges our country faces, and we are blessed with wise leadership and an energetic youth, so only good things can happen.

As we have seen with the UAE time and time again, we can do anything when our hearts and minds come together to follow a shared vision.

Now more than ever, every nationality, every company, big, small, public, private, or government-owned must come together to build an economy where nobody is left behind, where everyone is playing a role in building a greater country and a better tomorrow – and where Emiratisation is no longer a word in our vocabulary.

This post first appeared here and was used with permission from author.

Khalid Al Ameri is an MBA candidate at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. You can follow him on Twitter @KhalidAlAmeri

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