One significant problem relating to Dubai’s work force over the last 12 months has been with retaining skilled nationals. The strategy usually referred to as Emiratisation, was designed so as to prevent talented nationals from leaving the country for better opportunities abroad. This is not a recent development by any means. For long, a vast majority of the work force is comprised of expatriates. Consequently, the unemployment numbers among the nationals is one of the highest in the region. The fact that there are as many expatriates in government agencies as there are in private corporations is a cause for concern as dependence on foreign nationals cannot be good in the long run.
The Dubai government had always found it difficult to match the supply and demand sides of the country’s job market and hence had to depend on professionals abroad to fulfill a large number of vacancies. The demographic composition of Dubai had played its part to bring about the present crisis. A large portion of qualified nationals are young and inexperienced. On top of that, nearly half the population is under the age of 18, meaning that they cannot contribute to the economy in any significant way. Hence recruiters have to look elsewhere to find experienced personnel for roles entailing more responsibility.
Compounding the situation is the widespread belief that foreign nationals have better work ethic than indigenous workers. This belief is not completely misplaced. The regions from which most workers are drawn are South and South East Asia. Both the regions suffer harsh economic realities which makes their workers more competitive and more driven. There is also a tendency for locals to prefer public sector jobs to private sector ones for reasons of job security and easy working conditions. This scenario all but pushes corporations to count on foreign workers.
Authorities and policy makers have come up with some ideas to address this concern. In what is commonly known as the Emiratisation initiatives, an array of programs have been proposed and implemented toward a more acceptable situation. One such program involves encouraging experienced expatriates to pass on their valuable knowledge to the younger generation. Although this seems sound theoretically, the results so far have fallen short of expectations. And it is understandable too. For any professional his/her knowledge and expertise will fetch returns only as long as it remains exclusive. As one would expect, few would willingly join a program that might jeopardize their livelihoods. Not only did the policy makers fail to see this obvious conflict of interest, they also seem unwilling to offer attractive incentives to expatriates to participate in the program. It is futile to hope that feelings of patriotism will prevail over instincts for survival.
Another idea that was tossed about is introducing private sector quotas for nationals. Although this move would ensure greater employment opportunities for the locals, the country’s economy would inevitably suffered as a result of not employing best available talent. Quotas still exist in public sector enterprises, especially in banking and finance sectors. But such impositions on the private sector are a relatively new development. The labor ministry, in a recent emiratisation drive had issued directives to private sector organizations to replace all their foreign staff working in the capacity of human resource managers and personnel managers with locals. The directive is met with disapproval from the private sector, which had long remained insulated from quota restrictions. Such protectionism in the form of quotas cannot be good in the long run.