Policies Blamed for Dent in Job Prospects for UAE Youth

Afshan Ahmed
Filed on November 11, 2009

DUBAI — A large number of UAE youth will be unemployed if they continue to depend on incentivised public sector jobs with the Middle East facing a “youth bulge”, say authors of a book that was launched on Monday.

‘Generation in Waiting: The Unfulfilled Promise of Young People in the Middle East’ highlights the pitfalls of old policies and reforms in the public education methodologies and job sector that could hinder the progress of the national youth and suggests solutions.

It is compiled by the Middle East Youth Initiative, a joint venture between the Wolfensohn Center for Development at the Brookings Institution and the Dubai School of Government.

More than 100 million people between 15 and 29 years live in the Middle East, up from less than 67 million in 1990. Globally, there are 70 to 90 million unemployed youth, an increase from 72 million in 2007.

In the foreword to the book, penned by Dr Anwar Mohammed Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Federal National Council Affairs, and James D. Wolfensohn, chairman and CEO of Wolfensohn Company, they say policy responses pursued by Middle Eastern countries during this downturn will determine whether their young citizens will be able to exploit opportunities when the global economy recovers.

“Thus, it is critical that countries double their efforts to create a skilled and entrepreneurial workforce and expand the role of the private sector while reducing the appeal of public employment,” the foreword said.

The compilation of researchers from different countries places emphasis on eight Middle Eastern economies but Tarik Yousef, dean of the Dubai School of Government (DSG) and editor of the book, said most countries share common challenges and policy features. “The challenges lie in the quality of secondary education, enrolment of young men and the structure of the labour market,” he said.

Many incentive structures and innovations that were introduced as a job guarantee for life are now hindering the progress of the youth. “There are new patters that were not adopted and the youth is paying the price,” said Yousef.

A reform strategy renegotiating the social contract in the Middle East and replacing old job protection rules and regulations with social protection and insurance policies has been suggested.

Paul Dyer, research associate at DSG and one of the authors of the publication, said the unemployment rate among young Emiratis is high because they wait for public sector jobs that provide better incentives.

“The labour market is driven by expatriates who often work for much lower than Emiratis would want to,” Dyer said. “They need to reduce their dependence on the public sector.”

“They try to seek only public sector jobs… and because they want those jobs, they are only focusing on the skills for the public sector.”

According to Yousef, the labour law that provides job security for Emiratis could deter private employers from hiring them but a bigger challenge for employers is to find nationals who want to work in that sector.

“You do not have enough Emiratis to work in the private sector because employers are hesitant to pay them the high salary scales.” Many companies need to hire a certain number of UAE nationals to comply with the Emiratisation quota. “While it fills the positions, the youth may not have the required knowledge for the job,” said Dyer.

Organisations like Tanmia, the National Human Resource Development and Employment Authority in the UAE, tries to address the imbalance in the labour market through training initiatives that facilitate the entry of nationals in the private and public sectors.

The problem of unemployment could have implications on the institutions of marriage and housing for young nationals who tend to delay important components of adult life. “More and more UAE women are delaying their marriage. Women delay it in their search for a bright partner,” said Yousef.

Also, though women are more educated than men, they continue to represent a small section of the workforce in the Middle East.

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