As a young nation, barely more than four decades old, the United Arab Emirates recognises the expatriate community’s role in its phenomenal achievements. But, today, when our country has come into its own and our youth are among the most educated on the planet, they must be given opportunities to shine. Many of our young people, both men and women, are graduates from some of the best universities worldwide; they are creative, entrepreneurial and ambitious. They often amaze me with their multi-tasking skills, technological knowhow and their grasp of world affairs. Most importantly, they love their country and are keen to play their part in its growth.
The goals of Emiratisation, a policy giving qualified Emirati jobseekers the edge, have long been close to my heart. I was blessed to have been born in Dubai and feel privileged that my companies have contributed to the UAE’s development, in particular, the hospitality, real estate, construction, automobile and educational sectors. I am proud to count myself among the generation that overcame hardships in the days when our spectacular cities were villages with hardly a mention on the map.
It seems hard to believe now, but I still remember how we battled to find clean water and had to make do with a diet of fish, dates and camel’s milk. Most of all, I am grateful to our nation’s founders Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan and Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum whose guidance, extraordinary vision and determination to succeed were the driving force behind the UAE’s transformation. Together they forged a blueprint for excellence that is being faithfully adhered to today by their successors.
The uncontestable proof lies in the fact that the UAE is one of very few countries on the planet which is experiencing economic growth following the 2008 global shock that is still ravaging the US, Europe and elsewhere. Just a few years ago, Western pundits were gleefully predicting that Dubai would be swallowed up by the sands. If that was laughable then, even the most rabid among them would agree that we’re having the last laugh.
Last year, I was delighted to learn that His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi, had inaugurated the ‘Absher Initiative’ designed to encourage Emiratis to work in the private sector, dominated by expatriates. It was equally rewarding to know that HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, has honoured this worthy initiative by announcing his full personal backing and declaring 2013 the year of Emiratisation while reiterating Absher’s core goal of providing UAE citizens with a dignified standard of living.
Current statistics reveal that an approximate number of 22,000 Emiratis are employed in the private sector that boasts more than four million jobs. I, like many nationals, find that disparity disturbing and would second the sentiments of Dubai’s head of Workforce Development, who recently said, “We’re in a globalised world and everyone is competing for jobs with China, Brazil and the US. And the time is ripe for young Emiratis to measure themselves against the world’s best for their benefit – and for the benefit of their country.”
There is a misconception that Emiratis prefer government positions over private sector openings due to higher starting salaries and better conditions. In reality, privatelyowned businesses provide offer greater scope for career progression and ‘sky’s the limit’ remunerations for hardworking, talented employees who ultimately benefit from a diversity of challenges inherent in the worlds of business, trade, finance and industry. Without wishing to denigrate those who choose a career path in the service of government, a worthy choice, but I should point out that the private sector unencumbered by rules and regulations, offers a different – and often more exciting and flexible - learning curve for dynamic employees who enjoy thinking out of the box.
Enthused with the idea of greater Emirati participation in my businesses, I have instructed the Al Habtoor Group’s department heads to give preference to national applicants. At present we employ just 30 locals but it is my fervent wish that by the end of this year we will welcome many more. However, it’s important to qualify the above statement slightly. Nobody will be hired just because they hold an Emirati identity card. My companies have flourished because I have always believed in employing the best and I have no intention on u-turning on that tried and true policy.
Emirati applicants will be expected to arrive for an interview with competitive academic credentials, experience or training to suit the opening in question. Moreover, they should be personable with an enthusiastic can-do spirit. Negativity has no place in any of our departments. Whether Emirati or expatriate, we expect our staff members to show commitment. We’re not interested in bringing people into the Al Habtoor Group family who care more about their salaries, their working hours or their holidays than their longterm career aspirations in a group of companies that actively promotes from within and generously rewards exemplary efforts.
We appreciate those who are willing to learn – and at the Al Habtoor Group, they can learn from the best. We strive to pinpoint employees with natural leadership qualities, potential managers/executives to be trained and groomed for greater responsibilities which are commensurately rewarded. We demand high ethical standards and loyalty from everyone on board, qualities that are reciprocated several-fold for I, more than anyone, understands that my companies’ workforce is our greatest treasure.
I am gratified that a growing number of prominent UAE companies have heartily embraced the Emiratisation program but I would remind the few naysayers still harbouring reservations that our country’s miraculous growth was the brainchild of our rulers, our business leaders and our citizens. Emiratis painstakingly laid our nation’s foundations and directed its trajectory.
This is the moment for Emiratis to come to the fore and mold our common destiny. The moment is now for young nationals to pull up their sleeves and show their mettle during a time when the government and the private sector are together making unprecedented efforts to bring Emirati expertise into every sphere of the economy at every level. My group is pledged to work towards this objective provided UAE citizens are motivated to respond and are willing to run a highly competitive gauntlet.
I hereby challenge my compatriots to step up and prove their competence to themselves and the world. It would be unrealistic to expect change to occur overnight but it is my hope that if we think Emiratisation today, tomorrow’s dawn will be even brighter.