Leveraging local talent

Written by
Changeboard Team

10 Mar 2015

10 Mar 2015 • by Changeboard Team

Sustaining local growth

According to the World Bank, in most Gulf Cooperation Council countries (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates) over 60% of the workforce is made up of expatriates.

GCC governments recognise that relying on foreign workers is precarious, and if growth is going to be sustained in the region then national workers need to be utilised. Therefore, nationalisation strategies to encourage private sector organisations to hire nationals have been introduced – referred to as Bahrainisation in Bahrain, Kuwaitisation in Kuwait, Omanisation in Oman, Qatarisation in Qatar, Saudisation in Saudi Arabia, and Emiratisation in the United Arab Emirates.

The private sector problem

Yet for private-sector companies, finding and recruiting qualified homegrown talent is tricky. Most GCC nationals prefer employment in the public sector, which in comparison offers superior employment conditions – higher wages, more job security, shorter working hours, generous holiday allowance and other attractive benefits.

Here are three organisations that not only recognise the commercial benefits employing national workers can bring; they have a clear commitment to creating a diverse and inclusive workforce. They’re embracing the challenge to attract fresh local talent, and creating working environments that keep workers engaged, driven and striving for development.

Standard Chartered Bank: employer of choice

The banking and finance industry in the UAE has a regulatory Emiratisation ratio requirement of 40%, a target Standard Chartered has exceeded for a number of years. Jane Siney, head of HR – UAE & Middle East, says: “At the heart of our Emiratisation programme is our aspiration to be recognised as an employer of choice for local talent and driving sustainable business growth.” 

Siney explains that this is driven through three levers:

  • Developing world class leaders to create an engaged and productive workforce   
  • Becoming the industry leader in developing and retaining talent 
  • Achieving an integrated talent pool that reflects the demographics of the local market

For Standard Chartered, employing nationals not only fulfils Emiratisation requirements, it also makes good business sense. “Employing UAE nationals helps international organisations like ours build a sustainable pipeline of local talent, enhances the employer branding proposition and employee engagement through diversity and social inclusion, and helps achieve external legitimacy and social acceptance in the UAE,” she adds.

Through its Emiratisation strategy, Siney explains that the bank has been able to create a more diverse workforce that matches the demographics of the local market and their customer base. “We have learnt that to remain competitive we need to regularly review our strategy on attraction, retention and development – we have a forum in which we do this with the most senior members of our UAE business,” she reveals.

For HR directors tackling the nationalisation challenge, Siney has this advice: “Align your strategy to your employee value proposition, be patient and constantly get feedback from your local talent to ensure what you are focussing on really does create the value you want.”

Ernst & Young: nurturing graduate talent

Nationalisation has been a major element of Ernst & Young’s MENA diversity and inclusion (D&I) strategy, and the company has exceeded mandated national targets in Manama, Kuwait, Riyadh, Jeddah and Al Khobar. Zaid H Al-Hadhrami, MENA D&I leader, believes that attracting, developing and retaining national talent should be especially high on the agenda for organisations that are truly committed to sustaining long-term operations in the region.

He says: “Nationals bring unique skills and local perspectives to an organisation. They are highly motivated and have strong relationships and firm ties within their communities. At Ernst & Young, we provide our services to several government entities and local and regional family-owned businesses. The insights, background and perspectives that our local employees bring have proved immensely valuable to our performance and operations.”

The company has introduced a number of programmes relating to developing national talent, including a three-month summer internship programme for national students in their final year of university, which introduces students to working life at EY.

The ‘whole of life relationship’ proposition is a comprehensive plan that begins with attracting national talent at graduate level. Once employed, individuals go through a structured graduate development programme (GDP) designed to provide key skills required for each of the company’s service lines as well as sector competencies. The programme also includes ensuring the graduates select the most appropriate professional qualification for them. Ernst & Young provides financial support and paid study leave days too. And even if employees opt to leave, the company aims to stay connected: “We want every ex-employee to become an ambassador for Ernst & Young or even valued clients,” comments Al-Hadhrami.

As a global organisation, Ernst & Young stresses the importance of truly understanding and embracing local culture. “Our flexible and inclusive corporate culture supports the development and integration of nationals into the workforce, allowing employees to achieve their full potential by meeting their personal and professional goals. To achieve this, we encourage our people to think differently about their working lives, attitudes and actions, especially during busy seasons when flexibility is vital,” he reveals.

For Al-Hadhrami, nationalisation is a strategic opportunity for businesses to help train and develop a young population, many of whom are entering the workforce for the first time. “Organisations can leverage this opportunity by designing and implementing development programmes to enhance the capabilities of young nationals, who will add value to their employer and the wider economy. Additionally, this is an excellent platform for HR professionals to link their nationalisation efforts with the organisation’s business strategy to maximise results.

“Nonetheless, it is recognised that nationalisation has its own set of challenges. We have found that actively participating in a number of regional HR summits – including specific nationalisation summits – can be valuable. Equally, sharing experiences and best practices within the organisation will help save time, effort and resources,” he comments.

Al-Hadhrami believes that attracting and retaining national talent should be a well-planned strategy with the aim of delivering realistic career opportunities to the right candidates, rather than a reaction to government regulations. “We have found that sharing our diversity and flexibility approaches, as well as career opportunities, with students on campus further strengthens our efforts in attracting optimum talent within the region,” he concludes. 

General Electric: company-to-country approach

General Electric has more than 80 years of partnerships in the Middle East region. Over the years, identifying and nurturing local talent to drive operations has been a strong focal area.

“Our nationalisation targets are not a mere response to governmental regulations, but a firmer commitment that’s part of our organisation’s ‘company to country’ approach, where we focus on addressing country/region-specific requirements by productively and creatively drawing on the knowledge and skills of local talent,” explains Wayne Davies, HR leader. “The national staff members bring in a stronger understanding of the region’s true needs and enable us to promote localised innovation,” he adds.

With about 5,000 employees across 25 countries in the MENAT region, in every market GE operates in there are clearly identified goals to strengthen the number of nationals employed. “Apart from the domain knowledge that nationals bring to the organisation, they also enable co-workers and the company at large to identify localised solutions for real market needs. Their understanding of the region is particularly relevant for organisations such as GE, which works in areas that touch human lives directly, be it healthcare, energy, power, water or aviation,” says Davies.

GE is also focused on enhancing nationals’ skills to nurture them as future business leaders. Examples of this include the Leadership Acceleration for Business (LAB) initiative, a corporate learning development center in partnership with Mubadala Abu Dhabi and modeled on GE’s Crotonville executive education programme; the GE Dhahran Techno Valley facility, GE Manufacturing Technology Center and partnership with the Technical and Vocational Training Corporation in Saudi Arabia; the GE Advanced Technology & Research Center in Qatar; and the GE Oil & Gas University Programme in Qatar and UAE. These and others have, says Davies, proven to be extremely successful in driving nationalisation programmes.

GE sees a focus on developing and strengthening the talent of local professionals as not just a responsibility but an organisation-wide commitment. “It is extremely important for organisations in the region to focus on supporting and creating a local talent pool of professionals. This is particularly relevant today with governments focused on human capital development and job creation to drive overall social and economic growth,” says Davies.

He enthuses: “It’s exciting to be part of this great journey of local talent growth. Ten years from now we will probably be impressed how we were able to make a huge difference in the talent development history by driving localisation … it helps us learn more about the region and understand the local talent better, which positions us well for a sustainable, promising future. All we need to do is embrace the opportunity with full heart and strong mind to make it happen.”

Jane Siney, Standard Chartered

Jane SineyJane is head of HR – UAE & Middle East at Standard Chartered Bank. She has more than 14 years’ HR experience in the financial services industry. She manages and drives the people agenda in collaboration with the respective CEOs and heads of function and ensures the alignment of business and people strategies through appropriate advice and interventions.


Zaid H Al-Hadhrami, Ernst & Young

Zaid HamhramiZaid is MENA diversity & inclusiveness leader at Ernst & Young. Zaid has more than 20 years of overall management experience in Oman and the US. He led the HR team in EY Muscat for three years, then the L&D team for one year. 


Wayne Davies, General Electric

Wayne DaviesWayne is senior HR leader - Middle East, North Africa and Turkey of General Electric. Wayne partners closely with regional leadership teams to support GE in accelerating growth by building a talent pipeline, organisational capability and culture that will provide strong, localized leadership foundations for GE’s continued growth in this dynamic region.