19 July 2006

Emiratisation Solution

An event courtesy of the Dubai Human Resources Forum had the Minister of Labour of the UAE as a guest today. The event was meant to be a constructive dialogue between His Excellency and the HR community of Dubai on the topic of nationalization/localization of HR jobs in the workforce. It was an interesting evening, but I wouldn't call it a constructive dialogue. As usual, the Dubai community was uptight, the meeting structured to a T, a dialogue did not happen. Nevertheless, some very relevant questions were posed to the panel of Government officials, who answered them as diplomatically as can be.

"Emiratisation" is a national government initiative that aims to bring in UAE nationals into the workforce. His Excellency the Minister of Labour responded to questions from the HR community related to concerns of expatriates who face the challenge of training local Arab men and women to take over the duties of Human Resource Managers. The government believes that HR positions are the key to bringing in more locals to the national workforce. They are absolutely right. But I wonder and doubt whether the vision of the Emiratisation drive is in the right place. The effort is definitely well-intentioned for the people and economy of the UAE. However, the right lessons from failures of the quota system in the private sector are still yet to be learned. After all, an HR Manager isn't just for staffing and recruitment. HR must be a business partner and resource for the organization. These lessons are not superficial in nature. I believe the success of Emiratisation depends on one factor: the depth of every individual.

Lessons to be learned are deeply connected to people's personal outlook of what they want out of life. Here's my thought process:

1. The Assumption: "Emiratisation" is not about a nationality or culture. It is about getting people like you and me into the workforce where they have the equal opportunity to showcase their capability and make a difference to their country. The ethical leader will support this cause based on humanitarian grounds, because it is logical and profitable for everybody if people contribute to the economy.

2. The Need: There needs to be an equal committment from UAE nationals as well as organizations for this cause. The local people, for the most part, have been granted every aspect of life for free by their national leaders. Thus historically they have never needed to work in order to survive, thrive. The challenge now is that very few of them want anything more out of life, other than their government pensions.

3. The Action: The true solution is to really ruffle some feathers in their local community. Change of this deep nature will not come until there is a radical shift in an individual's philosophy of life. The UAE comes from a lovely blend of traditional Islamic values and the mindset of an open-minded homeland where expatriates are welcome to live the life they choose. When His Excellency mentioned that he thought there is a requirement for a large-scale training program, I hope he also meant for individual thoughts to be refined during the training initiative. I'm afraid that training to install high-end skills is just not going to do the trick for the Emiratisation cause.

Executives of the Emiratisation drive must think about how to develop leadership mindsets. Skill-based training is not going to instill the local people with the mind and heart of a true leader that they have all the potential to be. Leaders struggle. Leaders push themselves to the limit. Leaders give of themselves. Leaders genuinely care about the people around them. Leaders manage contradictions with awe and excitement. Leaders believe in taking risks nobody else would dare. Leaders are realistic and visionary at the same time. Leaders help. Leaders do things because it is the right thing to do. Leaders realize that profit is the by-product of ethical management.

The practical starting point to developing leadership mindsets is actually from home itself. However from a government standpoint, it could stem from the education system. Not enough emphasis is laid on practical application of knowledge imparted at schools. Students should have to fight for their free scholarships from the government. This creates a sense of purpose for kids right from their first social interaction. Excellent performance should be rewarded, creativity should be showcased, and personality should be developed for long-lasting impression with the world. The most important facet of this process is for individuals to be able to express their perspective, be in the classroom, at home, or at the workplace. Critical thinking must be encouraged in this way so that innovativeness is inculcated in the minds of youngsters and carried throughout their career. Schools must enforce the action of connecting with students' dreams, their aspirations, and let them know that there is a whole world out there for them to shine in.

I couldn't agree more with the Minister of Labour when he stated that there is enough room for people to enter this country and find job satisfaction. I don't believe expatriates need to feel threatened by the Emiratisation initiative. In fact, this should be a positive challenge for any HR professional if they are true leaders.

The goal is to coach the local people (NOT train) to develop their philosophy of life. Human beings, no matter where they come from, must connect with their individual beliefs and value system to be able to change their destiny. The following are questions we could explore in coaching the local people:

1. What does happiness mean to you?
2. What sort of difference can you make in your organization?
3. What are you afraid of?
4. What is the purpose of your existence in this world?
5. How can your work contribute to developing yourself as a person?
6. What would your plan be if you were deprived of your current financial state?

Let's start developing leadership minds, and we might have something far more positive and transformational than just an Emiratisation drive.