Subtle, but meaningful, changes are taking place in the UAE employment market, although their significance will only grow over time. The government is doing all it can to make the UAE an increasingly attractive place to live and work, and this is resulting an influx of people seeking jobs.
Visa requirements are being eased to facilitate a more efficient and humane labour market. Business licensing requirements are being rationalized and becoming more facilitative.
Concurrently, there is an increasing number of UAE Nationals entering the job market and it is incumbent upon the government to ensure there are jobs for them as well. It is one thing to attract overseas talent and another to create jobs for fresh graduates in a market unused to the concept of hiring and training fresh graduates.
The latter is an enormous challenge.
Mismatch on expectations
I have been mentoring some UAE Nationals who spoke of difficulties in finding jobs. Now, this could not only have been due to the dearth of opportunities, but also due to a low level of preparedness for the job market, salary expectations, reluctance to enter the private sector and so on. The result has been, for many of them, a long wait for the right job.
The government is rightly trying to force change from the demand side – it has made it mandatory for qualifying private sector enterprises to hire UAE Nationals to the extent of 2 per cent of a certain part of their workforce every year to achieve a 10 per cent target by 2026. Government aims to get 75,000 citizens into the private sector by 2026.
The banking and insurance sectors have been singled out for more specific treatment. A sophisticated points-based system has been devised to ensure UAE Nationals are inducted not only in certain numbers but also across various departments and at certain levels in the hierarchy.
Preparing for banking careers
Much is being done in this sector, with the Emirates Institute of Finance (EIF) responsible for an 18-month National graduate trainee program to prepare individuals for banking careers.
This starkly contrasts with the private sector where adoption of UAE National employment targets has been tardy. The private sector realises the severe hurdles (and costs) in effectively implementing the new policy. It has hitherto (with a modicum of exceptions) been operating in an expatriate labour market, enjoying the luxuries of being able to hire (and easily fire) fully trained staff with little training costs.
It is unaccustomed to spending meaningful monies on training and development of expatriates, leave alone hiring fresh graduates and putting them through management trainee programs, as in other parts of the world. Recent governmental initiatives will push the private sector into the real world, where they will need to invest in the UAE National program.
The cost of hiring, training, development and a waiting period for effective contribution, post-training, will all have to be contended with and budgeted for.
More direct job creation
It would be wise to step back and see what the government is doing here. It is taking a long view of creating an even more open and flexible labour market with UAE Nationals being expected to enter it in a significant manner – with regulatory support. Over time, one expects current job subsidies to fade and the UAE National hiring requirements to become progressively more demanding. This will be a good thing although the government should consider sops to the private sector to invest in training and development of these candidates.
Doubtless, HR costs will rise. So will costs related to more regulation on ESG, corporate taxation etc.. These discussions are for another day. The private sector has to adapt, streamline and prepare for the new world. There is really no choice.
The government is under pressure to create job opportunities and will most certainly not tolerate tardiness in adherence to new hiring laws in this regard. Having said that, it is incumbent upon UAE Nationals to prepare themselves, manage their expectations and work towards exploiting the opportunities created for them.
My recent experience reveals a changing mindset. There is realization that government alone cannot be a guaranteed source of employment and that readying oneself is imperative. However, most are lost as to how to do this.
The EIF has realised this and structured a program that includes mentoring on career management. The private sector would be well advised to start thinking hard of how they can embark on their UAE National intake program and of helping the latter prepare for careers with it.
A wait-and-watch policy, perhaps in anticipation of softening of requirements, is inadvisable. And shortsighted.