A GAME OF NUMBERS?

The UAE's population is estimated to be 9.3 million.Over the last couple of weeks I have been keeping myself busy in the evenings by volunteering with INJAZ UAE to run a career development program for a group of students who have secured scholarships from one of the most prestigious companies in Abu Dhabi.

The students were selected after an assessment program that started at an early stage of their schooling and in the next few weeks will head off to the US to complete their final year of school before going to University. When they return to the UAE in four years time they will be in a strong position to secure an attractive job with the government entity that is sponsoring them.

This is just one of the initiatives that is taking place in the UAE in the name of “Emiratisation”. Emiratisation is the act of incorporating Emirati Nationals into the workforce, something that has played an increasingly important role in the country’s human development strategy over the last few years.

Why is there a focus on this? Let me share some statistics with you (because you know I love statistics).

It is hard to find accurate, up to date figures for the population of the UAE. The last census was done in 2005, and since then we have to rely on estimates. A recent study I saw put the latest figure at 9.3 million, a significant increase over the population of between 200,000 and 400,000 when the UAE was formed in 1971. Much of this increase has been driven by expatriates. Again accurate figures are difficult to come by but it is estimated that they (or should I say “we”) account for a staggering 88% of the population.

Such a reliance on expats presents a number of challenges for the country, not least increasing youth unemployment as well as needing to provide opportunities for an ever increasing population.

A significant proportion of the existing National workforce works in the government sector (including companies in which the government has a significant shareholding). Existing Emiratisation programs mean that jobs in these organisations are attractive to Nationals for a number of reasons, including (among other reasons) the fact that they often pay significantly more than similar private sector jobs, have shorter hours and more holidays.

The Eid holiday which marks the end of Ramadan this week is a great example of this. Government employees are getting the whole week off, making nine days if you include the weekends, whereas private sector workers are getting two days. This may be an extreme example but it illustrates the point.

Whilst some progress has been made, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, recently called on the Ministry of Labour to take steps to increase the number of Emiratis in the workforce tenfold over the next seven years.

There is a great deal of debate about the best way of doing this, with some arguing that government entities should give preference to companies employing a high proportion of Nationals when letting contracts. On the flip side others argue that this is all well and good but steps also need to be taken to make the private sector more attractive to Nationals. 

One thing is certain, it is a difficult problem to resolve, and it isn’t going to happen overnight. In the meantime I shall continue to volunteer with INJAZ to do my own little bit to promote the merits of the private sector.

That’s enough of that serious subject, I’m off to finish packing ready to fly back to the UK tonight to be reunited with my family.

Thanks for reading, and an early Eid Mubarak! 

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