The challenges of emiratisation in the private vs semi-government sector

The challenges of emiratisation in the private vs semi-government sector

I am often asked what are the differences in the challenges related to emiratisation / nationalisation between the private and semi-governmental sectors when I speak about how Compensation & Benefits can support emiratisation at conferences.

This is an important topic, as the answer will influence what rewards professionals can do in order to foster the attraction and retention of Nationals in the GCC. Here are some pointers based on my experience.

Emiratisation in the private sector

Usually, the numbers of Nationals are pretty low. They tend to work all in the same kinds of jobs, for example welcoming guests with dates and Arabic coffee in hotels, answering queries in the customer service desks of malls, being receptionists…

So we are talking relatively low-skills roles with a customer-facing flavour.

In multinationals, there may also be a few high profile Nationals in very senior positions, being strong role models for the younger generations. I’m also guessing that in large regional conglomerates, the children of the founder may be active if they are interested in managing the business – but they won’t be in large numbers anyways compared to the overall workforce of the organisation.

The target quotas for employing Nationals are much less stringent than in the semi-governmental sector. The main challenge is attracting Nationals more than retaining them, simply because there are fewer to retain – and those who chose the private sector made a conscious life decision (more about that later).

Emiratisation in the semi-government sector

The Nationals are a strong part of the overall population, and may even represent more than 50% of the headcount.

Their roles tend to spread from the more junior staff jobs to mid-level professional positions and first-level supervisory roles. And there will be more Nationals in the top layers of the organisation compared to the private sector.

The challenge is often more about retention than attraction. Some industries in particular are ridden with high attrition rates, such as the banking sector for example, which routinely faces a 25 to 30% (or more) attrition rate of UAE Nationals every year.

The government also has a much stronger and direct influence on the organisation, and will at times issue directives regarding the number of National hires over the mid or short-term that can’t be ignored, or other regulations that apply to not only the public sector but also to the semi-governmental organisations.

Comparing the challenges and what C&B can do

The semi-government sector does not face too many issues to attract Nationals, compared to the private sector.

There are a number of reasons for that, some being that pay is higher, working hours are shorter, and generally speaking, there may be less focus on productivity and outcomes in the semi-government vs the private. There is also relative job safety for the Nationals in these organisations even where there is performance management.

From that point of view, semi-governmental organisations may be interesting for Nationals as they have most of the attractive features of working for the government. As an added “bonus”, some aspects of the working culture are more in line with private organisations, especially in terms of job content and exposure to international practices.

So the young are encouraged by their families to work in the semi-government sector as it is seen as relatively modern and prestigious, with good working conditions too.

Then, what happens is that the employee may get restless for a quick promotion, or experience issues in interacting with his/her manager and colleagues, and they may want a change. So they will hop for another job at another semi-government organisation, knowing full well that the doors will be open given the requirements for high emiratisation quotas.

Hence my perception that the issue is mostly one of attrition (or retention, depending on how look at the situation).

Compensation & Benefits can play a role there for semi-government organisations, by helping put in place retainer programs for targeted populations, promotions criteria, internal equity analysis, and better communication of the package value as part of a wider career development / career management approach.

In parallel, most of these UAE Nationals will barely consider moving to the fully private sector. There, the issue is to attract the locals. Not only are salaries often lower than in the government and semi-government sectors, but working hours and performance/output expectations are aligned with international standards. This may seem less attractive to potential candidates.

But even for those who may be interested in the private sector, knowing what opportunities exist, and being encouraged to explore them, are gravely missing in the region.

There is a gap in the education system between what is taught in the local curriculum and the skills that companies require.

And there is also a gap in family knowledge, understanding and therefore encouragement. Simply put, the new generation is the first one being explicitly encouraged to work in the private sector, and most families don’t even know what the possibilities are. Coupled with the lack of role models in the previous generations, this means that it is difficult for a young Emirati to consider working for the private sector.

The issue is compounded by the fact that most sizable private companies in the region are either multinationals or family conglomerates who need to compete in international markets and ensure a high return on investment (focus on results and cost control).They need staff at reasonable cost, equipped with the right skills for the job and willing to prove themselves including in demanding positions with extended working hours like in retail for example.

For large numbers of the available positions, the Nationals may therefore be less willing to apply (and sometimes also maybe less attractive due to the high cost of training them coupled with higher salary expectations) to the private sector employers.

In this context of private sector, rewards professionals can help finding more Nationals by implementing referral schemes, special allowances or premium for Nationals, work-life balance or wellness programs that cater to the needs of this specific segment of population. These schemes can be part of a comprehensive approach based on developing a unique and engaging company culture that will help attract more Nationals to the private sector.

What is your experience of the contrasting emiratisation challenges in the private and semi-governmental sectors ? Have you noted some other differences ? Please don’t hesitate to share your views in the comments section !


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  1. Nellaiappan(raja) pillai says

    Thank you Sandrine. Coming up with special allowances or premium for nationals may bring discrimination amongst employees. It may not be healthy. Hence, I feel that the organizations to apply unified salary and benefits inline with the employees’ responsibilities, grade and benefits structure.

    • Yes Raja this would be the ideal position. But as we know, in the GCC, there is a premium for paying Nationals. I’d rather pay them the “normal” salary (for educating them on the value fo the job) and add a special premium or allowance on top, than pay a salary which is different from the market value. At least this way, over time, the organisation may be able to reduce the special allowance and bring salaries all in line.

      • Nellaiappan(raja) pillai says

        Noted and thank you for your reply Sandrine. I feel that it should not be organization specific. In order to avoid complex, government may come-up with standard premium national allowance as per level which will attract and simplify the process as well. Yes. This is the task to be guided by C &, B professionals and to be reviewed, further necessary actions are to be done as and when needed.


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