Focus on local talent to keep your business growing

Written by
Changeboard Team

22 Jan 2015

22 Jan 2015 • by Changeboard Team

The year of Emiratisation

Sheikh Mohammed named 2013 ‘the year of Emiratisation’, and now intends to double the quota of privately employed Emiratis to create jobs for the nation’s young people. But how can you achieve this and what impact can HR make?

This was the theme of Changeboard’s first roundtable held in Dubai, in collaboration with Hay Group and conducted in February under Chatham House rule. Andrew Schauble, general manager at Hay Group UAE, introduced the topic and highlighted the importance of data in providing trends and insights for leaders in the UAE.

Of 270,000 people on Hay Group’s compensation database, 11% are UAE nationals working in the private sector. In contrast, the government sector represented in the database comprises 65-70% nationals. In some ways a dual job market has emerged, so a key question for Schauble was to identify how the private sector can be creative, support Emiratis and recognise hurdles that could turn into barriers to recruitment. The aim is to create a balanced workforce to ensure the future prosperity of the country.

What do Emiratis want?

The group of senior HR leaders acknowledged the ‘problems’ nationals might associate with working in the private sector. Office hours are extensive, pay can be uncompetitive when compared with government, and the public sector – they perceive – offers more career security.

“We need a mentality shift,” commented one delegate. “Thirty years from now, Emiratis need to be a key part of all industries – this will help build up our nation.”

Yet there is a question around how clearly the benefits of private sector employment are communicated to nationals. The group agreed that to attract any employee, organisations have to answer the critical question: ‘What’s in it for me?’

An understanding of career progression

Delegates felt that nationals typically want to know three things before accepting a role: the salary, the working hours and the job title.

On Hay Group’s compensation database, 48% of nationals employed are in supervisory roles, and the group agreed that job titles are critical among the national population since they value status highly. Yet career progression rarely forms part of the discussion.

While the climb to manager level usually takes 5-7 years, delegates felt that often nationals are looking for this to happen within 1-2 years, so a key challenge for employers is how to manage expectations.

One delegate recommended providing a structured early career development programme for young nationals, clearly demonstrating the stepping stones to management level and how long it takes to get there. However, another pointed out that this is much more feasible in a large organisation ‘with 20 levels to go through’ than in a smaller one, adding: “Sometimes nationals get to manager level and then leave as there’s nowhere further for them to go.”

Another delegate revealed that they thought having an ‘international’ brand would be a compelling proposition when attracting nationals, as the organisation could offer experience in a range of areas and countries. However, this has not been as successful as first hoped. “This is not a mobile population, so people are less interested in having an ongoing international career,” this member commented.

“We have a national development programme – people stay for a couple of months, for example, getting exposure to other markets such as Istanbul or London,” said another participant, adding that “some join us for a nice experience then go back to other industries.”

The delegate added that their organisation’s biggest challenge is retention, with the turnover of nationals now at 22%. Another HR leader had trouble retaining national staff, pointing out that the number of people leaving usually increases after bonus time: “Nationals move between banks, getting what bonus they can and not thinking about their careers. They rarely comprehend what true career development is.”

The group agreed that the most progressive organisations provide clear and planned development opportunities with continued learning. Here, there is opportunity for knowledge transfer between the expat and national populations to really work.

“Where the focus is more on grade than development, there is an opportunity for the private sector to cultivate an ambition to grow faster,” offered one delegate. However, the group agreed this requires a mindset change where progression is based on performance rather than time in role. “People think: ‘I’ve been here for four years so I deserve a promotion’. It’s a difficult discussion to have when that’s not always the case.”

UAE nationals

Male Female Employees

Role modelling & peer-to-peer learning

Questions were also asked about work readiness among the younger population, including: ‘Do young people understand what’s required of them?’, ‘how useful is role modelling?’ and ‘do organisations have programmes where role-models can tell their stories and provide inspiration?’

“It’s tough to find mentors,” one delegate admitted, “but if these were available they would be a precious resource.” Another suggested that university roadshows would be an excellent way for private sector organisations to access young people and teach them about the realities of work in the private sector. And as job seeker expectations are often created by parents, the group agreed they should engage with them directly on this agenda.

Delegates also discussed the importance of ‘it’s not what you know but who you know’. “Relationship skills are the most powerful business tool,” said one delegate, “which is just a different version of role-modelling.”

The group felt that the government has a pivotal role to play here, with one person suggesting that the government may have created unrealistic expectations of the job market and needs to do more to manage expectations. This will allow the private sector to ‘catch up’ (for example with more balanced pay and benefits).

Interestingly, Hay Group research suggests that once in private sector employment, UAE nationals are reluctant to move. Some 70% of those surveyed suggested that they are satisfied with their private sector careers and enjoy the challenges they bring.

Role modelling

Representation across sectors

The population of nationals employed is unevenly spread across sectors. Of those on Hay Group’s database, 55% are in banking or oil and gas and 90% of these are in clerical or supervisory roles.

In contrast, the hospitality, education, media, FMCG, construction and healthcare sectors each employ less than 1% nationals. Within organisations, business functions such as HR, accounting and finance employ 25% nationals, suggesting that there could be a lack of awareness among young people entering professions about what certain job functions or sectors involve.

“The connection between education and what the workplace is asking for is crucial,” said one delegate, adding that change will take a long time. “We need an overhaul of the system,” suggested another. “People need to know, if they have an engineering degree, can they be a CEO someday?”

One person pointed out that telecoms is seen as a ‘proud’ place to work as it is fundamental to the nation’s future prosperity. Here, nationals make up just 10% of employees.

When it comes to gender balance, Hay Group’s data shows the ratio of female to male UAE national employees is 45:55, while among non-nationals it is 15:85. Introducing home working to help female employees has been helpful for one organisation in attendance. “We’ve adapted our proposition for family demands to tap into female talent,” explained the company’s representative.

However, it was highlighted that this will only work in the right organisational culture where management understands the benefits of tapping into this talent pool.


A strategic objective for the region

Everyone agreed that for change to happen, CEOs must recognise Emiratisation as a key strategic objective in the region. However, it was acknowledged among the group that this is not yet part of the discussion in the UAE. HR must demonstrate the business case and make an impact on their organisation’s talent agenda.

“Smart CEOs understand that talent is the most important thing in their business,” commented one delegate, adding that being able to show demonstrable ROI will put organisations in a leading position in this growth market.


At the table

Fadi Nourallah, HR director, Majid Al Futtaim Retail

Eman Abdulrazzaq, head of HR – UAE, HSBC

Zainab Noureldini, head of human resources, CBI

Con DeRuig, HR director, UASC

Anne-Marie du Toit, HRBP, Al Ghurair Group

Andrew Schauble, general manager, Hay Group

Harish Bhatia, regional manager – productised services, Hay Group

Jim Carrick-Birtwell, CEO, Changeboard

Mary Appleton, editor, Changeboard Middle East