Making Emiratisation targets work in the real world

That would mean addressing some of the inherent issues at a basic level

Gulf News

Does job naturalisation work well? To think about this, let’s first ask ourselves this question: can a given country’s citizens compete in global job markets?

The dynamics for job markets have changed and are changing, and it’s no longer enough to be standing on a factory floor to move things from one side to the other, or to pack things in a box. As markets evolved, so did jobs — hence the skills required for them.

And what we are seeing today is not something that is purely tech-associated, neither something that has to do with artificial intelligence only, but is rather a shift in the dynamics of labour markets. We should look at this from an ongoing evolving trend where jobs of outdated skills are no longer needed. New jobs with different skills requirements are today’s norm, while other jobs being maintained but with more progressive sets of skills.

So where is the problem?

Let’s answer this by answering the two questions asked at the beginning of the article. Is naturalisation working?

Enter shadow recruitment. It’s very easy for companies to fake employment numbers by applying a couple of accounting tricks taken from Enron’s book of scandal. And numbers anyway would show what you want them to show.

If you want as a company to show that naturalisation is working by showing artificially inflated employment figures, then you can do so by hiring UAE nationals in all job categories and classifications with a complete or partial disregard to their field of study and their sets of skills.

If this continues at a trend, it will be an issue for the UAE’s economy in the future because, one, misplacing individuals and jobs means reduced efficiency and effectiveness, which means hiring more people to basically do the same kind of job.

And, two, shadow unemployment, which could mean that employment rates have been wrongly calculated and reported because of wrongful recruitment. This could cause a sudden surge in unemployment rates when companies can no longer keep up the act.

Moving on to the second question, if what has been mentioned earlier is in fact accurate, then we are not there yet. Because if individuals could compete globally in their respective fields, then there is no problem here to be resolved. Actually, it would mean that companies will be competing against one another in recruiting the best of those in the same fields.

Since that’s only happening for a select percentage of UAE nationals and in very specific fields, a problem exists and will persist if not addressed at different levels.

Level one: education, throughout, should be directed towards addressing skills deficiencies in the jobs market, and not just towards educating individuals and increasing literacy rates. In other words, it’s an education that works for tomorrow, not the one that worked for today.

This would also mean a proper analysis of what surpluses and what deficits exist today, and what ones will exist in the future. Ideally, addressing it today and ensuring the evolvement of the education with job markets would guarantee that no skill deficits or surpluses will exist in the future.

Level two: enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of the naturalisation programme by first accomplishing the desired results from level one, which would ensure the availability of required skills in the markets. And secondly by making the programme one of protection rather than one of enforcement.

Companies or institutions should only be penalised if market research shows that there are UAE nationals with the required sets of skills and are not recruited — that doesn’t include the individual’s desire not to join. Policies will then need to be reviewed, assessed and amended, with the research done jointly by the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation.

The last question that I want to leave you with: when are we going to be a net exporter of expertise?

— The writer is a UAE based economist.