The long-term challenges of Emiratisation

A 14 per cent unemployment rate for Emiratis in Abu Dhabi is startling enough. Add to that chronic problems in education, skewed market dynamics and disincentives to join the workforce, and the single greatest challenge to the country’s economic development can begin to be understood.

It must be admitted that unemployment means something different in the UAE than in many other countries. While it is a false stereotype that all citizens are wealthy, the national support system relieves some financial pressures. The problem with unemployment is not poverty but has more to do with the general health of the nation.

Emiratis must be at the forefront of the economy. Foreign residents have and continue to make important contributions, but native sons and daughters must fulfil crucial duties to preserve the national character and steer future growth. Originally published by The National.

As the Abu Dhabi Tawteen Council works to bring more Emiratis into the workforce, it is considering a shift from hiring policies based on mandatory quotas in favour of subsidising companies that hire Emiratis. This would allow private sector salaries to compete with those in the public sector. Both are imperfect solutions; quotas force companies to hire employees whether they are qualified or not, while subsidised salaries pay people more than the market would. Still, subsidies are the better of the two options since they are less coercive. As educational reforms take hold and more students enrol in university, quotas should be able to be phased out. Still, Emiratisation is a project not measured in years, but in decades.

The recent 70 per cent pay hike in the public sector is a disincentive to join the private sector, but this may be brought into balance by a plan to subsidise companies that hire Emiratis. But the proposal may also address a fundamental dilemma of UAE society: how to share the nation’s wealth while fostering a commitment to the national project through the work of its citizens in both the private and public sector.

Government-sponsored initiatives like Tawteen have a responsibility to provide citizens with opportunities for advancement, but ultimately Emiratisation’s success will be measured by young people’s own actions. The challenges have to be acknowledged, but that should not eclipse the achievements. A recent report on entrepreneurship found that over the past year the UAE stood out as a source of new enterprise. Young people have been following their dreams, not just to make money but to contribute their own special touch to society. It is here that Emiratisation has its future.

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