With an estimated 80 per cent of residents in the UAE being expatriates, the country’s workforce is probably one of the most diverse in the world. Complementing the UAE’s efforts at attracting global talent has also been an emphasis on developing Emirati resources to play an active role in the development of their country.
A report by the Federal National Council (FNC) highlighted that there are 3.8 million jobs in the private sector, of which at least 800,000 jobs can be filled by citizens. But so far only 20,000 to 30,000 Emiratis are employed in private businesses.
Emiratis, by and large, still perceive the public sector to be a more attractive employer, for reasons ranging from superior employment benefits to a lack of awareness of private sector opportunities. One of the priorities for the nation has therefore been to encourage greater participation of UAE nationals in the private sector.
The partial quota system, stipulating a minimum percentage of private sector employees as UAE nationals, was proposed as a solution. It was first used in the banking sector, with a 1996 law specifying that at least four per cent of bank employees had to be Emirati, with this minimum expected to be increased year on year. This system was broadened in late 2010, with the Ministry of Labour announcing that Emiratis should account for no less than 15 per cent of the total staff at every UAE-based company.
Still, attracting top-notch Emirati talent to the private sector continues to be a challenge. As alluded to above, the reasons can range from mismatched expectations between the individual and the company, and disillusionment on the part of Emiratis because of a perceived lack of long-term career opportunities to companies perhaps focusing more on quantity rather than quality when fulfilling Emiratisation goals.
Staff engagement means talent development
At a “LinkedIn Breakfast Club” networking session organised by National Bank of Fujairah before the holy month of Ramadan, wherein 18 senior executives from industries like aviation to health care gathered to share their Emiratisation experiences and best practices, there was unanimous agreement on the need for companies to actively engage with Emirati employees and their aspirations. True, the usual practical concerns for any job-seeking or working UAE national — or anybody else for that matter — such as pay and benefits, company reputation and location of employment will not go away. But when you actively engage them and show that you are fully committed to supporting their long-term aspirations and career goals, it is certainly possible for the private sector to recruit and retain good Emirati talent.
We speak from experience. NBF has put in place a number of programmes supporting UAE nationals at different stages of their careers. These include a graduate training programme designed to help high-calibre candidates excel in the banking sector to a career advancement programme tailored to fast-track the development of existing Emirati staff. This structured focus on staff engagement through talent development is deeply ingrained within the bank: with over 42 per cent of NBF staff being UAE nationals, of which 81 per cent are women, it is important to ensure that they are well-motivated and truly committed to the bank’s success.
Our staff engagement levels have gone from 73 per cent in 2014 to 78 per cent in 2015, according to a study by the Korn Ferry Hay Group, compared to an average engagement climate of 69 per cent within the local banking sector.
At the LinkedIn breakfast, further stories abound of companies winning over Emirati hearts and minds: Cleveland Clinic proactively coaches shortlisted candidates to ace interviews with its senior management, whilst Emirates NBD sends finance graduates from their management trainee programme to an international accounting firm for further training. Such efforts make sense: even if these Emirati recruits do not join your organisation in the end, your willingness to guide them onwards in their careers would have created a lasting impression, not to mention equip them with the skills to make meaningful contributions to the country.
The last point is important because private sector companies need to redouble efforts to raise their profiles as employers that are just as attractive, if not more so, than their public service counterparts. Take the prevailing lack of awareness of the career opportunities within the banking sector, a predicament perhaps reinforced by statistics that put the number of fresh Emirati school leavers entering the banking sector at one to two per cent of the approximately 6,000 students that graduate annually. One good suggestion brought up by Emirates NBD at our recent LinkedIn breakfast would be for the UAE Banking Federation to work closely with the Ministry of Education to develop a holistic framework to foster a greater understanding of the banking sector and its career opportunities among Emirati students. This will certainly bolster student outreach efforts by individual banks such as participation in career fairs and university open days.
A commitment to quality, not quantity
Ultimately, with Emiratisation being a national imperative for the UAE, corporations here have a social obligation to ensure that they are not just hiring merely to fill a vacancy or, worse, meet quotas. It is about instilling an organisational commitment to nurture talent so that they are equipped to not only excel professionally, but to develop the confidence and ability to maximise their potential and fulfil their dreams.
I am therefore very hopeful of a new points-based Emiratisation system currently explored by the federal government. To be launched in the banking and insurance sectors in early 2017, this system aims to incentivise companies to shift from a “meet the quota” mindset to a focus on quality when recruiting UAE nationals. Points will be awarded for companies that fulfil a series of Emiratisation criteria, ranging from the number of training hours per staff to the number of Emiratis appointed to senior roles.
By maintaining a focus on talent development, companies in the private sector are well-positioned to attract talented UAE nationals into their fold. It is only when you have the long-term career interests of your Emirati staff at heart will your company – and the local economy as a whole – truly benefit.
— Abdulla Aleter, Head of Human Resources, National Bank of Fujairah