Local Talent In The GCC Has A Lot To Offer

The nationalization of the workforce in GCC countries: is it just a topic everyone seems to be talking about, or is it a legitimate necessity to prepare generations of youth for the post carbon era?

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By Seraj Jaghbeer


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The nationalization of the workforce in GCC countries: is it just a topic everyone seems to be talking about, or is it a legitimate necessity to prepare generations of youth for the post carbon era? I believe it's a combination of both, but all that matters is the end result: the effectiveness of education systems, and the system of values skewed to motivate young Emiratis, Qataris or Saudis to thrive in certain professions and embrace work in the private sector.

The development of national talent starts with a carefully planned education system. According to a survey conducted by Bayt.com, 53% of GCC nationals believe that the best way to improve numbers in terms of employment of nationals is by providing better education and vocational training facilities. GCC governments have invested heavily in bringing NYU, Carnegie Mellon, Georgetown, HEC Paris and other major universities to the region and granted stipends for nationals to obtain prestigious degrees. A large number of high school graduates opt to study abroad, whether it's in the U.K. or U.S., and then return back to their home countries where employment is almost guaranteed.

One of the major issues that GCC societies are currently struggling with is the prevalence of the government sector as a first job choice among nationals, with the major reasons for declining private sector offers being its long hours and its lack of benefits compared to what the government has to offer. However, this trend is slowly shifting toward more locals opting to join their family businesses or stepping into roles with major multinationals.

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The success of individuals such as Raja Al Gurg, Lubna Al Qassimi, Omar Alfardan or Prince Al Waleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud inspire youth and are driving an increased number of them into the private sector. We are witnessing national professionals taking leading positions in some of the most prestigious Fortune 500 companies in the region. The shift from government to the private sector will not happen overnight but the idea is to have business-minded nationals running government institutions, while the government inspires the remainder of professionals to build their careers in the private sector.

While hiring CEOs, CFOs or COOs for our clients, I'm impressed by the number of solid CVs we receive from locals. Despite the usual perception, I'm meeting more and more of the great local talent who want to do bigger and better things than their previous generations. Critically, they embrace innovation and are digitally savvy.

Although a vast majority of UAE national jobseekers are well educated, they are facing various challenges to secure a suitable job, making Emiratisation instrumental to the success of any present or future economic plan. The government's policy is to interact with key stakeholders in society to provide more job opportunities for Emirati graduates whose number is increasing at a fast pace every year. According to the Human Resources Authorities, the number of Emirati jobseekers ranges between 12,000 and 13,000 annually, out of whom 80% are female jobseekers with many holding high qualifications.

"In Abu Dhabi, only about 4% of private sector employees were Emirati. Incentives are needed such as aligning benefits and working hours, if this is to be reversed, in the long run full integration of Emiratis into the labor market is crucial for economic prosperity and social inclusion" says Dr. Emilie Rutledge, associate professor of economics at UAE University. "Unemployment rates have been high among the Emirati population in recent years, with estimates in double digit figures, much of which is structural unemployment and can be attributed to strong public sector preferences."

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With Abu Dhabi expecting to create more than 600,000 new jobs over the next decade, based on the forecast of 7-9% annual economic growth, the government's goal is to disseminate quality education and provide effective human resource development programs to improve the ability of the educational system to prepare highly efficient human capital and keep abreast with the job market demand. It also seeks to rectify the current imbalance between public and private sectors in providing employment for UAE nationals.

People who believe that their education and talent can make substantial contributions to the economy will thrive in their home country. Some argue that local talent is not cheap, and that it requires more handholding than expatriates. The financial side might be true, but the motivation to build the sustainable economy beyond the wealth of oil and gas in the GCC is prevalent across the region, from Saudi Arabia with their recent announcement of Vision 2030, right through to the UAE and Qatar.

It is important to keep in mind that nationalization is not and should never become a pure numbers game. It is about education and expertise that provide the skills to deliver efficient work in the private and the government sector.

Related: Nowhere To Go But Up: Hiring Practices In The Middle East

Seraj Jaghbeer

Principal Consultant, Hanson Search

Seraj Jaghbeer is Principal Consultant at Hanson Search, where he heads nationalization executive search across the MENA region. As a result of his many years spent working with major family-owned businesses, Seraj has gained an extensive knowledge of nationalization programs and resultant HR issues. His current role includes client acquisition and candidate attraction, with a strong emphasis on relationship management

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