United Arab Emirates: Attracting And Retaining Emirati Talent

Last Updated: 5 September 2017
Article by Rebecca Ford

One of the UAE Vision 2021 Initiative aims is to become a knowledge-based economy pioneered by UAE nationals. Steps taken by the government to encourage Emiratis in the private sector are designed to further this aim. But what steps should be taken by the private sector employers themselves?

UAE Government Initiatives

As we reported earlier this year (see here), the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation (MHRE) introduced a new programme at the end of 2016, called Tawteen, with the aim of promoting Emiratisation in the private sector. The programme includes the following initiatives:

  • Tawteen Gate, which is aimed at attracting talent.This is a recruitment portal for Emirati job seekers.Depending upon the size of the workforce and sector in which a company operates, businesses falling under the jurisdiction of the MHRE are being selected to advertise their new positions via the Tawteen Gate.
  • Tawteen Partners' Club, which is aimed both at attracting and retaining talent, including encouragement to private sector employers for programmes such as training, flexible working, and work environment schemes.

The Challenge

In a study commissioned by the Federal Authority for Government Human Resources (FAHR) and conducted by YouGov for the FAHR International Conference 2015, which surveyed HR professionals and employees in both the public and private sectors, it was reported that 70% of HR professionals faced challenges in hiring the right UAE graduate into their organisation, although almost half of these (46%) said it was because they did not recruit graduates at all. However, the World Economic Forum has recently reported that youth unemployment in the Middle East runs at 27 per cent, a fact that was discussed at an International Youth Day celebration event in Dubai on 9 August 2017.

The ability to attract young employees has been a point of discussion in many parts of the globe and is clearly an issue for many employers, not just those in the UAE. Key means of attracting talent are frequently identified as being (1) Flexible Working; (2) Training; (3) Performance Management; (4) Employee engagement – a sense of belonging; and (4) Creative benefits.

These incentives for attracting staff can just as easily apply to the retention of talent in an organisation. In the FAHR-commissioned report, 54% of employees considered good benefit packages to be important, closely followed by career progression (47%), office work environment (42%) and excellent training and development programmes (32%). Amongst Emiratis, a key area of job satisfaction came from flexible work timings (83%). The need for employers to offer more flexible working arrangements (across the workforce, whether Emirati or expatriate) was the key expectation of HR professionals for the future workforce (54%).

In particular, as a 2014 Hay Group report pointed out, the private sector must look beyond a competition with the public sector on pay and benefits, in order to attract and retain Emirati talent, which is ultimately not a long-term solution.

Accordingly, and in line with the reported wishes of job seekers and existing employees, organisations need to consider broader elements of employee engagement. These could include:

  • Improve communication within the organisation.It is also important to ensure that staff have easy access to company policies and also understand the benefits available to them (in our 2016 UAE Workplace Survey, 8% of respondents reported that policies were only available if an employee specifically asks for them, and 4% stated that they were not made available at all).
  • Manage employee performance effectively.To be fully engaged, employees need to understand their roles and the expectations put on them, and receive consistent feedback on performance, as well as being given opportunities to grow and develop.
  • Creating a positive work environment.This could include expanding the use of flexible working arrangements.
  • Recognition of employee contribution.Many of the respondents in our 2016 UAE Workplace Survey indicate that they already do this.In challenging economic times, recognition of employee contribution can cost little, but encourages and re-enforces employee engagement.

The Current Offering

Our own 2016 UAE workplace survey (see here for further information) provides some interesting food for thought.

Emiratis in the workforce

When asked what percentage of their workforce was made up of UAE nationals, almost half of our respondents confirmed that they did not have any Emiratis, as Emiratisaton did not directly apply to them (for example, because they were in a free zone), and a further 8% reported that they did not have any Emirati representation in their workforce even though Emiratisation applied to them. Only 1% reported that they had more than 50% Emirati representation in their workforce.

Flexible Working

When asked about "Family Friendly" policies, quite a high percentage of our respondents indicated that they offered some form of flexible working arrangement, with 6% offering job sharing, 27% offering temporary or part time working, and 31% offering offsite /home working.


Only 1% of our respondents indicated that no training was offered in their organisation, with the majority (41%) stating that 2 – 5 days' of relevant training courses were offered to employees each year. Quite a high proportion (21%) said that they offered more than 5 days' of training per year.

Performance Management

Almost all (99%) of our respondents said that they used performance based appraisals, and 85% of respondents (up from 73% in the 2015 survey) reported that managers and supervisors regularly discuss performance with subordinates.

Employee Engagement

46% of our respondents considered that there was a clear path for career progression within the organisation.

Creative Benefits

A raft of benefits were listed by our respondents, with the most popular being private medical insurance (96%), annual flights (78%), life insurance (72%), and employee recognition awards (56%). Other popular benefits included dental cover (50%), relocation allowance (47%), payment of school fees (44%), and paid parking (40%).

Next Steps

It would appear that many of the respondents to our Workplace Survey already offer benefits which are expected to attract job seekers and retain existing staff.

Improving further upon the list of employee requirements, and managing and communicating employee engagement, will help private sector employers attract and retain Emirati talent, which will ultimately contribute to the success of the Tawteen initiatives.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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