Emiratisation is aimed at "reducing unemployment" amongst Emiratis and reducing dependence on foreign labour. Image Credit: Illustration: Nino Jose Heredia/Gulf News

It is not possible for a nation to sustain its development agenda if it is primarily dependent on foreign labour to fuel this national task. This is what makes emiratisation so critical to UAE national policy.

Emiratisation is aimed at "reducing unemployment" amongst Emiratis and reducing dependence on foreign labour.

This may raise questions about what the implications of this might be. For example, does it mean expats will lose their jobs? Does it mean that expats living and working in the UAE for years will have their contributions overlooked? The answer to those questions is no.

The DNA of UAE society is comprised of tolerance, diversity and a pro-business attitude; the culmination of which has allowed people from all over the world to work, create their own businesses and thrive in the UAE. And that sentiment will continue.

However, when the latest statistics indicate that the unemployment rate among Emiratis is 10 per cent, that there is 14 per cent unemployment amongst Emiratis in the UAE's capital (Abu Dhabi), and that Emiratis represent less than one per cent of the private sector, then without being alarmist, or reactionary, we must acknowledge that we are facing a serious challenge to our sustainability.

Therefore, in parallel to affirming our place as a tolerant society with a global market economy, we must equally acknowledge that it is unacceptable for the size of our local population, relative to the economic growth and wealth of the UAE, to have even one Emirati unemployed who is seeking work.

According to various studies, the reasons behind the statistics are attributed to Emirati nationals preferring the often higher salaries and security of government-sector jobs. Conversely, private-sector companies prefer to hire expats for less pay.

This is exacerbated by the demographics of the UAE because the growth rate of the country far outweighs the growth rate of the Emirati population.

Education is also a major issue; the education system too often falls short of providing Emiratis with the calibre of skills needed to compete against global market candidates.

In response, the federal government has taken action by investing more aggressively in education and creating quotas in the finance sector.

The government also recently set up the Federal Human Resources Authority and the Emirates Council for Emiratisation. There are also various initiatives by the government that promote emiratisation, such as Tawteen, Tanmia, Abu Dhabi Tawteen Council and Emirates National Development Authority.

The solution is holistic; it will come about through an emiratisation policy that is practically and dynamically implemented across multiple industries and by creating institutionalised synergies between these entities.

These entities must include:

• Institutions controlling primary, secondary, and higher education (federal, local, and private)

• Credible vocational/professional/technical training centres

• Federal and local bodies developing Emirtisation and human-development policies

• Government-sector employers

• Private-sector employers

• Private-sector employers, which are government owned (semi-private)

The goals to strive for should be:

• Ensuring Emiratis are the majority in leadership roles across strategic industries, not just because they are Emirati, but because of the true virtue of their ability. This should be applied and measured with strict performance indicators of human-capital development and not quotas.

• Inculcating civic duty among Emiratis living in each of the emirates, to achieve an equal sense of national identity that translates into an innovative and solid work ethic.

• The majority of Emiratis work in the government sector. Therefore, we need to redefine the government work environment, to eliminate the traditional practice of short working hours and easier performance measures. We need to instead ensure that a new environment is fostered; one that is engaging, innovative and results-driven, capable of competing even with multinational corporations. And in order to attract and develop the best and brightest government employees who can feed the broader job market.

• Providing dynamic and effective vocational training to close the skill gaps across the board.

• Implementing Federal policy that aggressively encompasses human development as the core of the entire national agenda.

• Institutionalising career counselling across schools to ensure proper guidance for students that matches them to jobs they aspire to, can achieve, and will dedicate themselves to performing admirably.

• Developing a centralised database across the UAE to manage Emirati talent and to maximise human capital regardless of gender.

• Increasing R&D to determine future employment trends, develop job-creating technologies and prepare Emiratis for the roles required to serve those evolving market needs.

The 18th century writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote: "Treat people as if they were what they ought to be, and you help them become what they are capable of becoming." Emiratisation will require a significant investment, no less than that of building monumental islands, or towers, but here we will be building human beings, capable of facing any challenge and inspiring humanity.

Najla Al Awadhi is a member of the Federal National Council.