In late 2015, Mercer Middle East launched its first survey on national employment in the UAE. We surveyed three key stakeholders; employers in the UAE, UAE nationals currently in the workforce (employees) and UAE national university students. The objective was to understand what Emiratis look for in job – both already in the workforce and those about to enter – and what employers are doing to catch up (coincidentally the title of the full report). The results in some cases are startling, and shed light on the expectations and interests of UAE national employees and students when looking for a job The study showed there were gaps and disconnects between what employers did and what employees value.
We have listed three key findings from the study beneficial for employers looking at attracting and retaining Emirati talent.
Overall survey responses
In all, 52 organizations from across all key UAE economic sectors including including public and semi-government sectors, telecoms, family business, and health care participated in the employers section of the survey. There were also responses from 462 Emirati students and 318 Emiratis employees.
1. The Qualification Race is On in Earnest
Of interest to employers in particular is the fact that, overall, the number of women students studying for a bachelor-level degree (46% of all women students) is considerably higher than for men (31% of all male students). The same trend is evident among male and female employees already in jobs. This qualification gap is set to widen — and the pressure on employers and HR is set to intensify in the coming decade — as the number of women with better qualifications than men enter the workforce and compete with men for the same jobs.
2. How to Get Emiratis Into a Wider Range of Economic Sectors
Not surprisingly, the areas of study chosen by Emirati women and men differed somewhat, and, in a few areas, the data suggests that many career options will continue to be unattractive to Emirati workers for some time. Men overshadowed women in the numbers selecting engineering and law, whereas women led men in choosing media and education. Business administration was equally favoured by both, at 19% of all student responses, and was the clear leader, followed by law (11%), engineering (10%), and computing and information sciences (10%), with lower responses for media, education, arts, and broad sciences. None of the 462 students polled indicated they were studying nursing, food and agriculture, physical education, languages, or specialist medical areas, including dentistry. For employers trying to attract local nationals to these sorts of fields, the struggle appears set to continue.
3. Emiratis in the Workforce: A Case of Too Little Supply for Demand?
Contrary to earlier reports that suggest Emirati men and women in the workforce are limited to managerial roles — and often not in alignment with experience— the survey found a broad mix of local nationals across all key career sectors. A surprisingly small proportion was judged to be at executive level (3%), with a strong proportion (42%) in managerial roles, and a further 27% in midlevel professional and supervisory positions. Interestingly, one-fifth of all 318 respondents (22%) classified themselves in paraprofessional and entry-level jobs. Additionally, one in four (27%) at the lowest career level (paraprofessional) stated they had high school diploma or lower education levels.
Even so, the UAE economy and the expatriate labour force is of such a size that Emirati nationals are minnows in their own labour market. Close to half of all employers polled stated that across all career levels, Emiratis made up less than 10% of the total workforce of their company. Adding to this, a surprising number of Emiratis in managerial positions are there despite holding only high school (29%) or two-year diploma (32%) levels of education. This will change over time as better-educated professionals move through the ranks, but the demographics of the country suggest this broader labour market participation imbalance isn’t going to change anytime soon.
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