Expats account for 87 per cent of UAE's workforce

With expatriates dominating virtually all job categories, the employment gap between locals and expatriates in the GCC remains enormous, according to research released yesterday.

Expatriates comprise as much as 58 per cent of the GCC's workforce and 87 per cent of the UAE's workforce, recruitment company TalentRepublic.net said.

The firm also cited a Madar Research study that shows 87 per of the UAE workforce are expatriates. The same trend is reflected in most GCC countries, particularly Qatar, which has the same local-expatriate workforce ratio as the UAE.

Kuwait likewise has a much larger expat workforce population, accounting for 69 per cent of all workers in the country, while the local workforce in Bahrain barely outnumber their expatriate counterparts at 51 per cent.

Oman and Saudi Arabia are the only countries in the GCC that have a significantly higher local workforce compared with expatriate workers at 70 per cent and 73 per cent respectively.

"The GCC countries, including the UAE, have seen major growth over the last decade. However, the infrastructure needed to generate ready talent for organisations to staff their technical or managerial functions has not ramped up fast enough," said Debabrat Mishra, Principal, Consulting Business Leader, Middle East, Hewitt Associates.

"However, what is encouraging is the fact that most progressive organisations realise this. They have responded to this issue by creating internal programmes that are designed to bridge this gap between recruiting raw talent and transforming them into capable managers and executives.

"We have also worked with companies in the country to help them assess and develop their young talent and have found young people to be receptive and eager. They want to learn and develop themselves and are willing to go the extra mile to achieve this," Mishra said.

A lack of homegrown talent is one reason why employers look abroad, Balakumar, Director, Dulsco HR Solutions, told Emirates Business. "The reason expatriate workforce outnumbers regional workforce is because the local population is not large and the base of qualified people compared to the expatriate population is small. The new generation of local employees have high expectations from their jobs, which in turn translates into high financial expectations. This at times can act as a barrier.

"They also prefer to work with government organisations. On the other hand, some employers said they prefer to pay less for the expatriate employee than paying a high salary for a local employee. This trend has accentuated given the economic scenario."

Much like other GCC countries, the UAE Government has been aggressively pushing for its Emiratisation programme, which aims to increase the number of qualified UAE workers in the market. However, with the bulk of UAE nationals being absorbed almost exclusively in the public sector, the local job market remains dominated by expatriates.

The report emphasised the crucial role of the private sector in the GCC countries in complementing the governments' efforts to boost local participation in the job market and pointed out that the governments could implement policies and create incentives that will encourage private businesses to aggressively hire locals. On the other hand, local workers must be encouraged to pursue various career prospects in the private sector.

The report recognised the efforts of regional governments to boost the quality of the local workforce. The establishment of world-class educational facilities, the opening of prestigious academic programmes and various career and leadership development initiatives taken by the government have significantly helped raise the quality of graduates and the competency of the local workforce.

According to TalentRepublic.net, one of the reasons behind local workforce not preferring the private sector is the attitude. Highly competent and qualified nationals often find the work environment in the private sector unattractive because of factors such as perceived inferior pay-scale, prompting most of them to look for opportunities in the public sector instead.

On the other hand, private companies are generally embracing the status quo by continuously hiring expats over locals primarily because of the lack of information about the vast improvements in the competency of the local workforce.

Going into what the solution might be, Mishra said: "The development of talent in the region will have to be driven by a private-public partnership wherein the government focuses on developing the curriculum and delivery at the primary and secondary education levels.

"The industry should also give support in developing a structured curriculum for vocational courses. In fact, the industry needs to step in early on to support the development of behavioral skills required for becoming effective managers and future business leaders."

Balakumar said the solution to the problem lay in a multi-pronged strategy. "Firstly, the enhancement of skills that the market demands by making appropriate career choices," he said. "Then helping nationals to change their attitude so that there is match between market demand and their expectation. The employers need to be made aware so that their myth about the regional populace not having adequate skill sets and are expensive, can be altered. And lastly, the private sector needs to put a conscious effort in engaging local population as part of their workforce."

A wide-scale awareness campaign that will reach all segments of the private sector will help stimulate interest in the local workforce. The campaign will need to focus on the strategic benefits of hiring locals, TalentRepublic.net revealed.

Similar information drives must also be launched to highlight the economic incentives being offered to private companies that make UAE nationals their first choice as employees.

The report also said hiring more national professionals in private sector companies will play a critical role in maintaining achieving a sustainable economic development pattern for the Emirates. It stated that available jobs in the public sector will not be sufficient to accommodate the rapidly growing number of UAE workers, making it important to establish new gateways for nationals to be absorbed into the private sector.

Preparing for the future

The Abu Dhabi Tawteen Council, the governmental body tasked with finding employment for Emirati job seekers, recently held a three-day Najah Exhibition job fair in Abu Dhabi. The event focused on career counselling for Emirati graduates and job seekers.

A seminar, in collaboration with Mubadala Aerospace, on exploring career opportunities in the aerospace industry in Abu Dhabi, was held as part of the Government's focus on developing a knowledge-based economy in line with its vision for 2030.

In 2009-2010 Tawteen will be launching a campaign to educate the private sector on how to attract, recruit and retain UAE national women in the workplace.

Tawteen's other initiatives include a Career Guidance Counselling project, which helps school students to get some work experience in the private sector.

The Sharjah Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI) holds Kaif Nabdaa, an annual training programme for students, which forms a part of the chamber's efforts to provide training opportunities that can enhance the capabilities of national students. It helps in familiarising the youth with the nature and requirements at the workplace.

About 30 trainees from universities, technical colleges and public secondary schools joined programmes held in the SCCI headquarters and other branches scattered across the cities of Sharjah, in co-ordination with private organisations and companies. The trainees were treated as employees in terms of commitment, duties, responsibility in carrying out tasks and using their skills to perform the assigned work. Successful trainees will received appreciation certificates and financial rewards after completing the programme.

With the aim of creating a method-ological leap in the strategic thinking of national leaders within the organisation, the RTA has launched the Qiyadi programme. It will be implemented in collaboration with MRCLD, a world-class pioneering centre operating in the field of developing young leaders. The programme provides advanced scientific patterns of review and methodological development of leading proficiencies and capacities that are intended to assist in building and developing sound principles of successful leadership within the RTA.

The Human Resources and Development Department at Administrative Corporate Support Services Sector of the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) also held a Summer Training Programme 2009 for the second year running.

The programme's aim was to lend support to the local community and targets university and schools students with the objective of grooming them for a career with the RTA.

International Computer Driving Licence (ICDL), GCC Foundation, the governing body and certification authority of the ICDL programme, has partnered with the ministries of education and education councils to hold training camps for more than 12,000 GCC students across more than 100 centres.

This year, 3,800 UAE national students attended the camps held by Abu Dhabi Educational Council with the co-operation of educational zones in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, Western Region, Sharjah and the Northern Emirates.

In Bahrain and Qatar, the ICDL training camps were held by the Ministry of Education and the Higher Council of Education respectively and consisted of 1,000 national students under the age of 12 years.


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