By: Hana Abu Kharmeh, Serco’s HR Director
International businesses are being encouraged to inject their knowledge and expertise into the UAE after the government has lifted its restrictions on foreign ownership, allowing overseas investors to own 100% of UAE companies.
The use of expatriate expertise and workforces has supported the rapid growth of now-international hubs such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The number of expats in the workforce vastly outnumbers Emiratis across the country and as such, nationalization is a key activity that all businesses in the UAE need to dive into, in order to give back to the country that has provided so many opportunities, supporting the next generation of national business leaders.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, and ruler of Dubai, announced back in 2019 the government’s plan to create 20,000 jobs for Emiratis in the private sector by 2023, especially in the banking, aviation, communication, insurance, and property sectors, thus supporting the country’s plan to further strengthen and diversify the economy.
In order to achieve nationalization, companies in the private sector should follow the next steps to ensure they’re on the right track:
Identifying the issue
The problem is that nationalization can be viewed by many organizations as a ‘tick box’ exercise. They are decreed by government regulations or the requirements of a given contract to recruit a local person and that is what they do. But, in doing so, they completely miss the entire point of nationalization. Simply recruiting someone to sit in a position by decree of the government or other business requirement undermines the talent available within the market and more so, completely avoids the core objective of nationalization – the development of local people.
The right approach
It is important then, to approach nationalization in a way that not only meets the goals of your business but truly invests in the nationals that you recruit. Companies instead need to ensure that they develop the nationals they recruit and truly focus on building a future workforce and management team that consists of skilled, experienced, and qualified nationals.
Training is key
Training is key and is a facet of nationalization that is the most often overlooked. To ignore training and development is to completely miss the point and is a disservice to the country that you have operated your business successfully and lucratively in. By taking the time to source the right national for a given role and making the investment required to develop, train, and qualify them, you will not only increase their capacity to help your business grow but also their engagement in your business and its vision. A company that invests in its people is often much more successful than one that treats them as numbers and when it comes to nationalization, that fact remains the same. In addition, investment in training and development will help reduce your attrition rates and support the achievement of nationalization percentage goals that are sure to be increasingly higher as we progress further toward the goals of the respective visions of each Middle Eastern country.
Supporting government companies
Nationalization is also an activity that your business can support even without recruiting nationals directly into your company. As an example, should your business provide services to a largely national or even governmental company, you can adopt a program similar to the ‘Transform, Train, Transfer’ model that has been designed and implemented numerous times by Serco Middle East. Put simply, the model uses Serco’s international expertise and capabilities to transform the operations of a client’s business and then provides comprehensive training to the nationals within it.
This training enables the client and its nationals to continue operating to an international standard beyond the culmination of Serco’s contractual commitment to them, at which point all operational knowledge, equipment, training, certification, and qualification is transferred into the client organization. This approach enables nationalization by proxy, developing and training Middle Eastern nationals on international ways of working and providing them with the tools and the skillsets required to operate without further support or intervention from international businesses.
Attracting national skills to the private sector
One of the hurdles to nationalization within the private sector is that often, public sector careers can be more attractive to locals. This is both due to a sense of patriotic duty – commitment to the public sector is to directly support your country – as well as to the traditionally unattractive approach private sector companies have taken to training and development.
The solution is more collaboration and greater engagement between private sector employers, educational institutes, and policy-makers from an earlier stage. As for the private sector, their career paths need to be brought to the forefront and ensure that students are aware of the kinds of jobs private firms can offer them, indirectly supporting their country.
Additionally, real-life experience is invaluable. For example, through processes such as Serco’s internship program, students are exposed to working in different areas of our business over a six-week period, thus broadening their experience to the vast number of opportunities that are available in the private sector. Furthermore, Serco’s bespoke nationalization and graduate programs provide a framework for the continued training and development of nationals and offer a rotational program, whereby graduates gain experience in functional, support, and contract-based roles so they can find where they excel the most.
The sustainability of skills, knowledge, and experience within a nationalized workforce is the ultimate goal for governments within the region. The reliance on expatriate companies and workforces, to a point, is coming to a close and as such it is critical that we support the vision of nationalizing key positions within our businesses whilst also successfully transferring knowledge into others. Nationalization is much more than just a tick box exercise and by investing, developing, and training your nationals whilst transferring knowledge throughout local businesses, you support the goals of local government. The future is bright for the region and we – as international or expatriate businesses – need to continue to support the visions of regional government and continue the growth of this flourishing region.