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International Education: help or hindrance

The way our world is headed, terrorism, regional conflicts, weapons of mass destruction, these will all play second fiddle to an even greater threat, the recruitment war! A war for talent! Countries will do battle to secure the ‘best talent' from an international migratory workforce, which is constantly shifting and searching for the next green pasture.

Countries will be vying for the best-of-the-best to help run their industry, sustain their economy and in some cases even help run their countries for them. Far fetched? On the contrary, here in the Middle East this is the situation, the nationals are heavily outnumbered by an ever-increasing expat work force. But the question is, are the‘locals' holding their own? The answer is, yes.

In a region where the majority of the population is less than 40 years of age, the potential to have a highly skilled work force is a huge possibility. Education is paramount, also specialized training and with the high income rate of the region, families can easily afford to send their siblings to the best universities and colleges not just in the country, but to coveted universities abroad. The final goal is obvious, ‘land a dream job'. So, does having an international education promise a better job, a better career? It would to a certain extent, but here in the Middle East it's not always black and white.

The governments of the region have gone to great lengths to make unemployment a non-entity, but only for the nationals. The majority of the work force is expat, and your country of origin plays a big factor on what jobs you get, but at senior levels the ball game is completely different. Getting back to the unemployment factor, initiatives like ‘Emiratisation' in the United Arab Emirates and ‘Saudisation' in the Kingdom of

Saudi Arabia, help the national work force get jobs, mostly in the government sector, but with stringent hiring policies laid out for private companies, for nationals getting jobs in the private sector is not a problem.

This brings us to the education factor again. Arabian Man spoke to Abdullah, an employee of a leading bank in the region to get a prospective from a man on the frontline, so to speak. With no foreign education to back him up, he feels that it would have definitely given him a more competitive edge. But that does not mean he's not happy, in fact it's just the opposite. He likes his job in the customer service department. He says, ‘it gives me a chance to interact with people on a more personal level' and though he has a very good command of the English language, he feels it's not good enough, such is his resolve.

He also went through the Emiratisation program, but he dropped out, as usual because of the salary. ‘It's not enough for Dubai', he says, ‘private sector companies pay much more' and if you have an international degree it's even bigger. But he points out that most nationals, who have an international degree, are arrogant and seldom willing to learn. For them, the job is not important as much as the money, ‘it's a power game of who makes more' ‘a show of petty things'. But he quickly adds that ‘it's a healthy mix, you need parallels like that, makes it interesting'. So does he regret not having an international degree?

A little, but then he's made it to where he is, all on a home grown talent platform, and at 25 with a family of his own, he's on top of the world.

So why is there such a demand a push for international education in the region? He feels that it is necessary to have a section of the population get an international education and know-how, if the country as a whole wants to compete in a global forum. But he insists on home grown talent to bring a balance, because be it work or general everyday things, traditional values are what is keeping them together, and he regrets the lost causes, of nationals not returning home and electing to stay abroad.

The other side of this coin is the hiring game the companies play in the region. Granted, the expat workforce is a huge factor, but who would you rather hire, both in government and private. Logic dictates that hiring the best candidate is ideal, financially and best for the future of the company. A qualified person is less of a financial liability, than a non-qualified candidate, that is true, but what if someone is less qualified, but has more experience?

Then what happens to the equation? That's the million dihram question and it boils down to what's available in the market at a particular given time. The best candidate among the parallels is always chosen, but in this region does that theory take a nosedive?

By nosedive we mean, who is the ideal candidate, a national, an expat, a national educated abroad, these are just the broad classifications. The sub classifications are where it gets complicated. With an expanding international expat workforce from every country, hiring and finding the right candidate is compounding, and adhering to Emiritisation and Saudisation is not easy for the companies, because somewhere there is a compromise, and that is a liability.

Looking at this from a regional point of view, the influx of skilled and unskilled workforce is huge. We spoke to Ahmed, a Canadian national, with roots in Kuwait. He has the advantage of knowing the language and the region, the stamp of an international degree. Like the rest, he is here to work, first and foremost. He looks at things from a very different point of view. He does not have to face the problem of fitting in. He is the handy man, a must-have for all companies, a bridge, a link between the expat and the nationals. He's a cut above the rest of the regional workforce, because unlike them, he's seen the world and is among that modern breed who understand the needs and wants of the 21st century.

He looks at the whole debate with a keen eye, he knows the region is a hot pot, and believes that the possibilities are endless. ‘If a home grown talent needs to rise to the highest position, then the region needs to take a far more radical approach, adaptation is the key'.

Not to say the region is lacking in innovative, local individuals, but put into the fray the percentage of the youth in the population, ‘that throws a different parallel into the argument'.

‘The region is in such a position, that the youngster's better play catch-up, and fast, or the hard work and dedication of their seniors can be easily undermined.'

Getting a degree, getting a job, expats, nationals, this is the story of the region. It is one of the fastest growing markets in the world, and the best-of-the-best are heading, no, pouring in everyday, and ultimately, it's the region that's going to prosper. Expats will one day go home, it's the nationals who will reap the benefits, but the circle continues, the wheel continues to spin, up down, rocky patches, it does not matter, what matters is, that it does not gather moss. Ultimately, it's the government with its successful planning and development that will save the day, and in this part of the world, that has never been a problem and never will for a long time to come.

Source: Arabian Man

Posted: 23/06/2008

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