Compensation levels and a lack of awareness about higher professional qualifications are the major roadblocks towards attracting and retaining Emirati talent in the accounting and finance sectors, industry experts say.
At a briefing in Dubai on Wednesday, jointly conducted by the Dubai Financial Services Authority (DFSA) and the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW), experts from both the government and private sector debated the best ways to combat the negligible interest shown by the Emiratis in the financial sector.
“Compensation levels at the Big Four globally are so much higher than what is being offered locally. It totally hits you in the face when you begin to look for a job,” said Khaled Al-Zaabi, manager in the supervision division of DFSA.
Drawing from his personal experience during his university days in the U.S., Al-Zaabi says that equalising the levels of salary offered to global levels will help spread a more optimistic attitude among the students thus attracting top talent. However, the lure of higher salaries along with shorter working hours and more holidays has seen a large number of Emiratis opting for a public sector career.
A recent survey by the recruitment site GulfTalent.com found that 86 per cent of Emirati male graduates and 66 per cent of their female counterparts choose government firms as their first choice of employment. Male graduates surveyed said they expect to earn a minimum of Dhs27,000 a month at their first job, while their female peers expect to receive Dhs19,000.
A career beginning in an accounting firm is usually slow with modest salaries and long working hours that fructifies after a few years. But compared to the dazzling salaries and benefits given to Emiratis in public sector jobs, a career in accounting falls short in terms of both pay and the amount of working hours.
“Salaries are low in the beginning but it pays off in the long run. I see it as an investment,” said Mohammad Zamani, an employee of KPMG and a candidate of ICAEW Emiratisation scholarship programme, which aims to attract more Emirati youth to the accounting sector.
Many accounting firms in UAE support emiratisation schemes through training programmes but find it hard to meet the salary expectations of Emiratis.
Anis Sadek, lead client service partner at Deloitte, believes that private firms can pay a lot of money to a small number of people to attract talent but that is not going to solve the problem in the long run. Sadek believes the right thing to do is to make the prospects more attractive and that increasing compensation is a part of it. However, he added that it is an aspect that might require government support.
“At the end of the day, we are a business and we are not short of applicants but we would like to give the local talent a fair chance. It is imperative to bring Emirati talent, as leadership should come from the local level. It [emiratisation] is something that we do, not because it is imposed on us, but it is what we want to do,” he said.
Al-Zaabi, however, feels that hesitation on the part of the Big Four firms to equalise salary levels to the global trend is a major setback in attracting and retaining Emirati youth. “We are not asking to match the salary levels to public sector but only to match the global salary trends,” he said.
Current interest in accounting among Emiratis is painfully low and the industry experts insist that the presence of Emiratis is essential at the helm of finance industry in the country.
“It is important that Emirati leadership be well educated in professional finance. We need to engage more with the government in spreading awareness about this industry,” said Jeannette Vinke, senior lecturer at American university of Sharjah, highlighting the importance of the youth of the country taking the reigns of finance for long-term benefits.
“Compensation is a problem and if we match the salaries to public sector we might not see a score of Emiratis. But even having just ten (Emiratis) in an auditing firm is enough,” she said.
More public-private cooperation is required to attract more Emirati talent to the industry, experts agreed.