A University of Sharjah conference emphasises that it will take more than government quotas to get companies to hire more UAE nationals. Reema Saffarini reports.
For many years now there have been constant calls for the nationalisation of the UAE job market. For UAE nationals when it comes to getting a job, the public sector remains the first choice. They still shy away from private companies because of salaries, working hours, job security, the office environment, etc.
The private sector may be partly to blame, because it is not making a 100 per cent effort to recruit nationals. The emiratisation quota imposed by the government on certain industries such as banking, insurance and trade has been working to a certain extent for some years, but is this enough?
A conference held recently at the University of Sharjah emphasised that it takes more than quota systems and government regulations to get the nationalisation wheel turning.
The conference - Linking Schools, Universities and Employers for a More Efficient Emiratisation - showed that the process starts at the school level.
The event was organised by Samira Harib, an English teacher at the Lubaba Secondary School in Fujairah, and the University of Sharjah. "Nationalisation is a sensitive issue. If it is not implemented it would hinder the country's economic growth and affect the personality of the citizen," said Harib.
She listed various ways to make nationalisation an easier process.
Misconceptions and part-time jobs
"We need to educate families about their negative influence on children when it comes to choosing a career. Some look down on certain jobs and others don't allow their children to take up any," she said.
Harib also emphasised the importance of giving students and parents an idea of how the market is working and what its requirements are. "This can be done at the secondary school level," she said.
Encouraging students to take up jobs while at school is also one idea to help them understand the market. "There should be part-time job schemes for students in grades 11 and 12. They can work for six to eight hours a week to get a taste of what the working world is like," she said.
Employers also have a responsibility to make the process easier. "They should put themselves in the job applicants' shoes and give them a chance to prove themselves," Harib said.
A bridge should be built between the education sector and employers to make nationalisation more efficient, said Ameena Al Marzouqi, the Dean of Students at the University of Sharjah.
"We do not wait until our students graduate and then go looking for a job to start calling for emiratisation. At the moment there are so many students who spend four years of their lives studying something that is not hot in the market. This hinders the process further," said Al Marzouqi.
What the country needs is a strategy, she said. "We need to be connected with each industry to know what their needs are and the number of employees they will be needing and so on. This will enable education institutions to advise students and provide the market with what it needs. Signing of Memorandums of Understanding and agreements with employers is crucial."
Emirati cab driver
Al Marzouqi expressed her concern about the attitude UAE nationals have towards certain jobs. As a person who started her career as a professional midwife, Al Marzouqi said that it is important for UAE nationals to prove themselves and their worth.
"No job should be beneath you. As an Emirati you should never be ashamed of doing any kind of job. You should be proud and confident. On the contrary be an example for others," she said. "UAE nationals want to be directors from day one. I have a dream of going one day to a petrol station to see an Emirati working there, or hail a cab and find an Emirati driver."
What employers and educators say
Hamad Al Reyami from the school relations office at the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, said that it is the ministry's role to help UAE national students when it comes to applying to a university or college.
"It is our job to guide the students when they apply for higher education to get them into institutions with programmes that meet the needs of the job market. We advise the students on what is needed nowadays so they will be able to fulfil employers' needs," he said.
Al Reyami added that the ministry does not forget about the students after their graduation. "We keep tabs on them to know what they have been doing after graduation and where they are working. UAE national graduates need to be qualified, open to constructive criticism and have the will-power to prove themselves in any field they enter," he said.
It is also the employers' responsibility to give UAE nationals a chance. "I know companies always look for profit. The market is open and there is a lot of cheap labour. However, I think employers should keep an open mind and give a chance to Emiratis to prove themselves," he said.
Kawther Ahmad, training and development specialist at the Human Capital Department of the Dubai Technology and Media Free Zone Authority, feels linking schools and universities with employers can be achieved by holding regular career and open days.
"This will not only allow student recruitment, but also provide a chance for students to enrol in shadow programmes, summer jobs, training and so on," she said.
She added that through exposure and work, the students will be able to understand the market and improve their language skills and at the same get the employer to know more about UAE nationals.
"There are so many things lacking when it comes to the skills of nationals applying for jobs. The English language problem and the mindset about certain jobs are two prominent issues. You do not see UAE national construction workers. Why? Because the country does not allow them to… Emiratis are not expected to do these jobs. Also, I have noticed that school graduates have no computer skills and this is a must in the market," she said.
Perceptions about UAE nationals also play a role in hindering the emiratisation process.
"A lot employers have no faith in UAE nationals and their capabilities. Many would say that they look for an easy job, don't want to do any technical work and are after big money. This is not true," said Ahnaf Abbas, head of academic services at the Sharjah Institute of Technology.
However, Al Marzouqi believes misconceptions will disappear once the market and educational institutions are connected.
She also emphasised the importance of productivity in the workplace.
"I want UAE nationals to be as productive and creative on the job as possible. Sitting behind the desk doing routine work is not productive. The quality of education provided to you by the higher education institutions in the country should come into practice and this will prove to the employers what you are capable of," she said.
WHY ARE UAE NATIONALS UNEMPLOYED?
According to a Gulf News article published in December, there are 36,000 unemployed UAE nationals.
Why the big number?
Samira Harib, an English teacher at Lubaba Secondary School in Fujairah, and one of the organisers of the conference - Linking Schools, Universities and Employers for a More Efficient Emiratisation - listed a number of factors:
- Population is increasing.
- Families have reservations about certain jobs and careers their children can take up. "The family plays a big role in a child's life and it is the parents who instil negative ideas and perceptions about working in particular fields. ‘My son would never take up such a job,' some parents would say. In the end, they grow to become irresponsible and dependent," she said.
- School graduates' lack of preparation and awareness of the market needs when they apply for a university major.
- Difficulties in meeting the job market requirements. " English language proficiency and computer knowledge are major requirements. Students spend only 35 minutes each day learning English at school. How do you expect them to learn well if they do not use the language and get exposed to the workplace?" she said.
- Experience. "Most of the job advertisements you read require at least four years of experience. Where will our graduates get that? Also, some employers prefer school graduates because they get paid less," Harib said.
- Job discrimination. "Employers are now looking for UK or US graduates. If you have a fairer skin you get better salaries and benefits. Also, where you get your university degree from makes a difference," she said. "What about those who cannot afford to send their kids to study abroad?"
- Connections. "Some people get hired because they are from a well-known family or because they know people in high places. What about those who are qualified and don't know anyone?" said Harib.
HOW EMIRATISATION CAN BE BOOSTED
Some ideas aired by participants:
- Educate families about how their views can be a negative influence on their children, making them look down upon certain types of work.
- Part-time job schemes for students in grades 11 and 12, so they get a taste of the job market.
- Improve attitudes towards certain jobs. No job should be beneath anyone.
- Hold regular career and open days.
- Improve the teaching of English and computer skills at the school level.