Why UAE workforce must spread its wings

Over the past decade, the UAE has accelerated its economic development agenda by tapping into new high value-added industries and fostering the enhancement of existing ones. This has been undertaken with the goal of establishing a highly diversified and globally-competitive economic base while reducing dependence on oil.

To that end, the UAE has devised sound strategic plans, put in place investment road maps and deployed large amounts of capital through major investment and economic development programmes.

While these measures will help the economy advance, reaching the desired state of global competitiveness will require more than investment in business infrastructure alone. To complement and facilitate these efforts, the UAE will have to ensure the talent delivering against its ambitions is globally competitive and up to the mission.

Towards this end, the UAE has developed a strong education system able to provide technical skills on a par with just about any nation, with some institutions upholding stricter admission rates than their western counterparts.

However, a technically strong workforce on its own will not suffice for a nation to earn a ticket to play competitively in today’s global economy. To thrive in a globally-competitive marketplace, a nation needs to cultivate competent leaders with a deeply ingrained understanding of what it takes to compete and win on the world stage.

To create leaders with this perspective, the UAE should consider building opportunities for its high-potential talent to work abroad in mature and more developed economies. Getting out of the comfort of an acquainted working environment is a huge growth opportunity that stretches capabilities and enriches perspectives. Working abroad sharpens interpersonal skills, raises self-awareness and helps reinforce best practice.

The fact that almost everything you experience abroad is different from home makes you more accepting and welcoming to diversity and change. Everyday challenges become opportunities to push the boundaries of your communications skills and significantly enhance your self-reliance.

When out there on your own, the rules of the game are different and your sense of commitment and accountability improves.

A study conducted by the Institute of International Education underpins the importance of these traits. The findings reveal the most important selection criteria in recruiting new staff are interpersonal skills and confidence, and that these skills are likely to be strongest in individuals who have spent time abroad.

Being in a different country also provides a strong benchmarking opportunity. Successful cultures have a variety of nuanced elements reinforcing their path to prosperity. From focused dedication to quality, to rigorous accountability, and even to how people unwind.

Taking the time to learn a culture first-hand, beyond just visiting, can change one’s sense of economic priority, of what’s possible from a development perspective and what’s needed to get there.

Government-affiliated companies and government itself can play a key role encouraging more national talent to work abroad. First, many government-affiliated companies could encourage international firms to provide career development opportunities for UAE nationals at both junior and senior levels.

There have already been some successful examples – most notably by Mubadala Development Company and Borouge (Adnoc).

Both companies have taken advantage of the assets they own globally to provide development opportunities for their high-potential national talent.

In the case of Mubadala, more than 30 UAE nationals either served or continue to serve in international posts across industries such as advanced technology and aerospace in the US, Europe and Asia.

From a government perspective, ensuring equal treatment, incentives and benefits for international UAE national employees is key. Equivalents of the “Absher” programme, which incentivises nationals to work in the local private sector, could encourage nationals to work abroad.

Creating a new function within an existing government department to look after international assignees would also be of enormous assistance in this regard.

Ultimately, for the country to enjoy the fruits of such programmes, UAE talent working abroad would need to return home and put their newly acquired knowledge and experience into practice.

Therefore, an articulated strategy needs to be devised by both the Government and its affiliated companies to ensure the benefits are fully realised.

Coupled with local human capital and economic development, such a strategy would be of tremendous value in establishing a more vibrant and competitive business environment.

Khaled Al Shamlan is a senior vice president, general management, at GlobalFoundries Singapore


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