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Tommy Weir: Nationalising The Private Sector

Tommy Weir: Nationalising The Private Sector

All companies must take responsibility for Emirati careers, writes the author of ’10 Tips For Leadership In The Middle East’.

Expatriate leaders have a responsibility to heed the sentiments of HH Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, late ruler of Dubai. And specifically they must contribute to national employment and development.

Responding to this, today, I want to set many of the myths aside and address the practical side of this emotive workforce topic.

What is nationalisation really about?

Officially, “nationalisation” is an effort by the government to proactively employ its citizens in the public and private sectors in order to reduce its dependence on foreign workers.

But there continues to be uncertainty as to what nationalisation is about. Some people believe it is about meeting specific manpower quotas. Other companies practice earmarking specific positions for nationals, while some firms address nationalisation as an element of their CSR programmes.

Nationalisation is not about quotas. It should be about building the local skill, professional, and worker base while trying to minimise or eradicate local unemployment. In other words, it should be about helping nationals fulfill their maximum potential in the workforce.

Before we dive in and try to resolve the nationalisation challenges, it is important to understand where they stem from. These challenges come from three limitations: the limited number of nationals, limited alignment of education with market demands, and a limited understanding of the issue.

The limitation of understanding spreads beyond the mystification regarding the definition of nationalisation. Oftentimes, there is a lack of understanding between many of the expats and nationals. Why?

It is common for a foreigner to come to the region and approach the local work environment as they did in their home country. When the local work environment is not put into perspective, it may result in a ‘me-versus-you’ relationship. This limited understanding easily turns into separatism in the workforce. It is imperative that Western workers approach the workplace with a greater understanding of nationalisation.

The single secret of nationalisation success comes from this point: it is imperative that both the expat and national understand where they come from and its impact.

Typically, in Western society, parents raise their children so that they will go off to a university, and upon graduation become independent and live away from home. Deep down, mothers and fathers in the West strategise and work for their children to leave home when they turn eighteen. Just think of the scenes in American movies that show adult children (in their twenties) moving back in with Mom and Dad. How do those parents react? You can see the disgust and horror on the parents’ faces as they are inconvenienced by this reality. Immediately they go back to working to help the child reclaim his or her independence.

As strange and harsh as it sounds, in Western society, parents pride themselves on raising their children to be independent and to live away from the home, away from the tribe.

But in Arab society it is shameful and inconceivable to kick children out of their homes. Just as Western parents are saying good bye, Arab parents nearly require that their children stay home until they are married, and then may even encourage their son or daughter to bring home a new spouse to live with them, or at least next door. Arab fathers take pride in the familial relations model.

These parenting approaches carry over into underlying management thought. The Western management style pushes employees to become independent; the focus is to reduce the dependence on the manager as quickly as possible. It is both a motivational strategy and a vote of confidence. Conversely, in the Arab world, the group identity and connection, the sense of belonging, is foundational. This carries into the workplace as well.

In order for understanding to happen, the expat managers must take an active role in nationalisation. It should not be simply allocated to the HR or nationalisation department. It is unfortunate that companies need specific departments for nationalisation. It would be better if companies were responsible enough that contributing towards societal progress was normal business life.

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