By Mohammed Kazim (@MAKazim)
If you are a UAE national or an expatriate resident of the UAE, you must be very familiar with the term Emiratization, a topic that has received a great deal of positive hype in the media ever since its inception. Never specifically defined, Emiratization is generally any initiative by organizations (both public and private) to employ, develop, and retain Emirati employees.
Over the years, Emiratization has manifested itself in companies in the form of diploma programs, intensive classrooms, and on-the-job training for the “fresh-graduate” employees that are “fit” to be placed in the work field. In addition, some Emiratization programs have also secured entry-level positions for Emiratis giving them exclusivity and priority over non-nationals.
So you must be thinking, why does the title here say “detrimental”? Although Emiratization may have been very helpful to some fresh graduates and new employees, it has had the opposite effect on young Emirati professionals and middle managers, specifically those who have undergone the highest standards of education as well as gained foreign and local experiences. Below are some of my observations with regards to this matter.
First, for organizations to establish these development programs, enormous efforts and significant monetary investments had to be made. Some of these efforts include making the commercial case, developing processes, allocating space, and much more. As a result, like any private educational institution, a minimum number of Emirati enrollees has to be met to prove the success of these programs. Keep in mind that in most cases, the same people who devise these programs are the people who hire Emiratis. Therefore, many talented and experienced Emiratis, who are qualified to join at more senior levels, get placed in entry-level positions.
Second, having exclusivity of entry-level positions for Emiratis causes Emiratis to remain in their positions for longer periods of time without any clear progression. This is mainly due to the fact that higher employee positions are filled with expatriates to introduce diversity and experience into the team. In many cases, these expatriates are less qualified and less experienced! Then why does this happen? With a high paced work environment and a shortage of skilled employees in the region, it is incumbent to hire an expatriate workforce. However, due to Emiratization, the organization has no choice but to employ them at higher levels, which sometimes comes at the expense of qualified and experienced Emiratis.
Third, I believe that all of the above causes Emiratis in organizations to be viewed as “special” cases that require “special” attention. The entire nature of the programs creates a perception that Emiratis are not qualified and cannot be trusted with real tasks. Qualified and talented Emiratis are then given trivial administrative tasks and deprived from responsibility they deserve in building their own nation. This in turn can lead to severe demotivation and as a result a lack of performance from Emirati employees.
Last but not least, I believe that with the current educational infrastructure and foreign exposure of Emiratis, Emiratization programs should cease to exist in their present nature and Emiratis should be given the opportunity to compete side by side with expatriate talent. However, Emiratization can take an alternate form. For example, Emiratis who feel they require enrolling in training programs should have the option to do so in the areas of their choice.
In summary, although I may have used extreme examples and generalizations to prove some points, I believe that Emiratization has proven to be detrimental for young, qualified, and talented Emiratis. Not only has it slowed their career progression through lengthy training programs and grounding in entry level positions but also it has led to severe demotivation. I believe this can be reversed by allowing Emiratis to compete with expatriates equally and giving them the option to enroll in development/training programs should they deem it necessary. This would not only save organizations millions of Dirhams annually but also create a more competitive, collaborative, and productive workforce.
May 2011’s issue:
Mohammed’s bi-monthly column aims to openly and honestly target issues around the native culture, society, religion, economy, and policy that have resulted as a consequence of the constantly changing demographics of the region. The column is characterized by a point-like articulate approach that gives the reader a comprehensive understanding of the discussed issues.