Emiratisation process hampered by 'lack of reliable data'

Emiratisation is being undermined by a lack of reliable data and enforcement, new research has found.

Emirati employers are also less likely than expatriates to hire nationals, according to the research by UAE University, commissioned by the Emirates Foundation.

The findings were based on interviews with 120 private sector chief executives and senior managers.

The country has struggled to get more Emiratis into the private sector, with 13,000 currently employed in private companies, about 0.4 per cent of the sector’s workforce.

“Affirmative action has been proven to work in other countries but the UAE is not making the most of its opportunities to enforce it and this is down to the influence of big business,” said Dr Ingo Forstenlechner, an assistant professor at the College of Business and Economics at UAE University, who led the study.

“The government share of business is so huge that they could really make a difference by forcing companies it awards contracts to to demonstrate progress in Emiratisation.”

The study also showed negative perceptions of Emirati employees was hindering the process, with almost three quarters of employers saying they thought Emiratis lacked the necessary skills and experience.

However, Patrick Luby, the managing director of Manpower Middle East who has worked to further Emiratisation for five years, said the UAE had shown “pragmatism” by not being as tough on quotas as other countries in the GCC.

“The UAE has not twisted people’s arms with emiratisation,” he said.

“Keeping it a bit grey and misty has been a good thing because it enables people to go forward and get to grips with this issue under less pressure than is the case elsewhere.”

He admitted, however, that there was little “hard data” on progress in emiratisation or clarity about which organisation was responsible for it.

The researchers also found that negative stereotypes made employers unwilling to hire Emiratis even though the country’s investment in education and training was beginning to bear fruit, with increasing numbers of students graduating.

“What this means is that the best and brightest of my students who can match anyone in the world don’t even get interviews,” said Dr Forstenlechner. “Their CVs are binned because they are Emirati.”

About 73 per cent of both local and expatriate employers interviewed for the research said they thought Emiratis lacked skills, education and experience; 29 per cent said Emiratis had unrealistic salary expectations; 17 per cent said they had unrealistic promotion expectations; 13 per cent said they were worried Emirati staff would be unproductive and unmotivated.

In all those categories, the Emirati managers were more concerned than expatriates about how hiring local staff would affect their businesses, with 86 per cent replying that the lack of skills, education and experience would put them off, compared with 61 per cent of foreign bosses, while 28 per cent of Emirati employers said they feared a “bad experience” with an unproductive Emirati employee compared with 10 per cent of foreign bosses.

“These stereotypes are not the realty,” said Susan Sandouka, director of Tawteen, which prepares young Emiratis for the private sector.

“There is a disconnect between the reality of the talent here and the perception some private sector organisations have.”

But the global economic slowdown had complicated matters, said the report’s co-author, Dr Emilie Rutledge.

“Emirati employers tend to be more focused on profit because they are often also the company owners,” she said.

“The slowdown has put the Government in a catch-22. Emiratisation is imperative but at the same time the country must remain competitive.

“There is a misperception regarding Emirati job-seekers, but even taking that into account, they still cannot compete against much cheaper expatriate labour,” she said.

Companies report the number of Emirati employees they have to various bodies rather than to a single body covering the whole country, making meaningful oversight difficult, the researchers said.

About 12 per cent of foreign CEOs said they were looking for Emiratis to hire regardless of their qualifications, simply in order have some on their books.

Yet poor performance in getting Emiratis into work is not restricted to the private sector, with Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, on Monday expressing displeasure that Emiratis made up only 54 per cent of ministry employees and just 25 per cent of staff in federal departments.Originally published by National.

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