By Shaikha Al Maskari

It was 42 years ago when the founders of the nation gathered to announce the unification of the UAE. The feelings that mesmerise from that historical occasion are overwhelming, as we imagine the hardship they had to encounter and the decisions they had to make to have them stand tall under that flagpole in Dubai on December 2, 1971. No doubt they had one priority in mind, the interest of their citizens who are the core of this country.

The UAE has witnessed dramatic growth in the past four decades with major plans that were completed, massive projects that were executed and countless milestones that were achieved. Limited population and skilled workforce forced the UAE to rely largely on a foreign workforce to meet the sparring economic development plans. The continuous migration of foreign workforce resulted in a demographic issue that had foreigners outweigh the number of Emiratis and according to statistics, expats stand for almost 88 per cent of the total population of the country.

The demographic imbalance has been of focus and trying to lessen its negative impact has been an exhausting challenge. There are no easy solutions because the UAE constantly requires the support from expatriates to deliver its objectives. The issue is then of optimum utilisation of all nationals and ensuring that they are invested in through proper training and development and then placed in proper positions to serve the country. In a country where citizens count for less than 15 per cent of the total population, would it be impossible to ensure that every national that requires a job and is capable of performing and fulfilling the skills and capabilities required, actually gets one? I just find it hard to digest that with only a few of us out there, some need to struggle to be placed in an appropriate job. It is just staggering that 40,000 Emiratis out there are unemployed in a nation that is filled with opportunities and are not prioritised for these jobs.

The UAE cabinet announced in late 2012 that 2013 would be dedicated to Emiratisation — an initiative by the UAE government to employ and deploy Emiratis in the workforce in a meaningful and efficient manner in both public and private sectors. The announcement might have left some expatriates threatened, viewing their jobs as perishable or terminable because of the notion of Emiratis taking over their positions. This has increased resistance of transferring knowledge to Emiratis and in their engagement in the workplace.

There are other causes for failure to deploy Emiratis in workplaces, especially in the private sector, which happens to be the biggest employer in the UAE today. The apparent challenges towards employment of Emiratis in the private sector include high turnover, high salary expectations, longer working hours, the perception of harder tasks and lesser time for vacation. Emiratis’ preference for the public sector is because of the various benefits it offers, but the public sector is saturated. It cannot afford to employ anymore.

The quotas imposed by the government is the driving force behind many organisations committing to the programme. Many organisations tried polishing their Emiratisation numbers by employing Emirati faces. However, they are just faces. Many of these Emiratis are not properly injected into the organisation’s operations, but are instead left without proper training and development, which eventually increases tension in the workplace, de-motivates the employee and lowers his or her self-esteem. Other tricks that are used by entities is resorting to outsourcing contracts, where some parts of the business are being run by external entities through an expatriate workforce, who are not counted towards the direct cost of employment. This, by default, increases the number in terms of Emiratisation.

When the announcement was made regarding 2013 being the year for Emiratisation, many organisations took a pledge to act, but how many have really acted? Who is the auditing body to ensure that these entities are actually following up on their promises? Some international organisations understand the importance of contributing to the country through employing the national workforce. They have, ironically, embraced Emiratisation more than many local organisations. Employing UAE nationals should neither be viewed with a negative impression nor should it be 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.

The UAE Government has taken serious steps towards implementing the Emiratisation programme through multiple initiatives. These organisations include: National Human Resource Development and Employment Authority (Tanmia) with their vocational training programmes; the Ministry of Labour, which has framed laws to support Emiratisation; the Ministry of Presidential Affairs, which has launched Absher — a programme targeted to enrol graduates in the private sector; the Tawteen Council, which is responsible for recruiting Emiratis in the workforce; and the Federal National Council, with its continuous recommendations on the matter. With all of these organisations involved, I believe that we should be a step closer to a the solution.

I know no matter what I say, the fear factor that the word Emiratisation evokes will always be present, but the country is constantly growing and developing and there will always be a need for expatriate workforce. It is only natural that a country eventually prioritises its national workforce. It is also utterly important that Emiratis become realistic about their expectations when seeking jobs. Everyone should support that natural evolution instead of being an obstacle.

The Emiratisation strategy may seem complex, but the complexities can all be torn down with adequate understanding and proper expectation management. Going back to the day of unification and extracting the values from our beloved National Day, the core of our country was based on unity, understanding, tolerance and cooperation and many more. The UAE is a beautiful masterpiece of many — Emiratis and expatriates guided by our visionary leaders. We did not do this alone. We have achieved countless goals working together, seamlessly, in harmony. In time, the daunting word “Emiratisation” will become a reflection of pride and joy. It will showcase the exemplary work we achieved together. We will convert the 40,000 unemployed to 40,000 employed, working shoulder-to-shoulder with our expatriate friends, in continuing to build the dream that is the UAE.

The article first appeared here and was published with a permission from the author.

Shaikha Al Maskari is an Emirati writer from Abu Dhabi. You can follow her on Twitter here.

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