The Dubai Industrial Strategy aims to elevate the emirate into a hub for knowledge-based, sustainable and innovation-focused businesses and also to generate Dh160bn by 2030. The strategy will develop and implement long-term industrial policies meant to enhance the competitiveness of Dubai’s industrial sector and its free zones. According to Oxford Strategic Consulting research, the success of the Dubai Industrial Strategy hinges on realigning Emirati perceptions of key employment sectors and focusing on leadership development.
In an effort to create 27,000 jobs, the plan will focus on the sub-sectors of: aerospace, maritime, aluminium and fabricated metals, pharmaceuticals and medical equipment, food and beverage, and machinery and equipment. However, Oxford’s UAE Employment Report 2016 found that many Emiratis consider these sub-sectors to be among the least attractive employment sectors. For example, the report found that:
- Aerospace was considered the least attractive sector, with 40% of Emirati respondents choosing the sector as one of their least favoured.
- 35% of Emiratis surveyed considered manufacturing to be one of the least attractive employment sectors.
- 23% of Emiratis designated tourism and hospitality among the lowest ranking employment sectors.
- 17% of respondents considered chemical/pharmaceutical to be among the lowest ranking sectors in their employment preferences.
If Emiratis are to benefit from the employment generated by this strategy, then policy makers should include efforts to realign national jobseekers’ perceptions of these key sub-sectors. The best approach to change perceptions of a particular industry is to learn what motivates jobseekers and reflect these motivations in the focus industry. For example, Oxford’s research indicates that Emiratis are strongly motivated by ‘helping the country’. Therefore, government and industry leaders can help change negative perceptions of the aerospace sector by clearly articulating and emphasising how the sector is linked to key national goals.
Given that female job seekers often rank manufacturing and labour-intensive industries low on their employment preferences, it is important to consider how Emirati females will participate in this strategy. While not all jobs may be suitable for women, the strategy will create a diverse set of female-friendly roles. According to the UAE Employment Report 2016, Emirati females were keen to work in administration, accounting and finance – all critical roles for organisations in any sector.
In addition to employment perceptions and concerns, the Dubai Industrial Strategy offers the opportunity to make great strides in leadership development within the UAE. The UAE’s small national population means that a disproportionately large number of citizens will need to become leaders if Emiratis are to fill a majority of the strategic and business leadership roles in the country. Dubai could task young Emiratis with making the emirate a preferred manufacturing hub for global businesses, a key goals of the strategy, or create youth taskforces to oversee progress in each sub-sector. Such a challenge would propel young Emiratis into traditionally unpopular sectors and afford the opportunity to learn leadership skills while developing and implementing an important country strategy.
Employment perceptions do not change overnight, and professionals do not just wake up one morning with leadership skills. Rather, positive changes and personal development must be continually encouraged by government and business leaders. The Dubai Industrial Strategy is a major step forward and it is critical to ensure that Emiratis play a key role in driving the strategy.