Human Resource Issues in United Arab Emirates (UAE)

Human Resource Issues in the United Arab Emirates

Less than four decades ago, United Arab Emirates (UAE) was among the least developed nations in the world. Tarmac roads were few, education and health services could only by accessed in urban areas and the well-known high-rise buildings merely existed (Shihab, 2001). There has been a great shift in UAE’s revenues and massive developments comparable to industrialized countries. The education system achieved by UAE in about thirty years can only be compared to that of Western countries that have taken over hundred years to establish with about 86% of the population being literate. Health services can now be accessed by 99% of the country’s population (Yearbook, 2007). The economic base has hugely developed with the increase in modern cities, high-level communications, sophisticated utilities, and electricity raising the standards of living of the citizens as well as their quality of life.

These developments have been achieved due to the large revenue base from the resource endowment of the nation (oil and gas). Therefore, UAE did not experience the normal stages of development that other developed nations go through. Large revenues were deployed towards the development of social and economic amenities within a very short timeframe. Taking into account that all the contexts of social, political, economic, cultural and institutional developments cannot be separated; the human factor cannot, therefore, be left behind. There has been a challenge in ensuring that human capital move in line with the industrial and technological changes in the country (Wilkins, 2001). This paper aims to explore the issues associated with human resources in UAE as compared to the social and economic developments.



Domination of Foreign Workers

The country relies heavily on imported labor both skilled and unskilled to meet its workforce. The country has a small population and before the discovery of oil, large of this was illiterate. About 15% of the country’s population is employed in the country’s industries (Yaghi, 2013). This margin is also male dominated as the cultural and religious practices hinder female participation despite the fact that most of them have attained higher education. Reforms are ongoing to change this phenomenon; one of the approaches is incentives for employers to employ locals. Labor Laws also provides that priority should be given to the nationals; foreigners would not be recruited where there is a national who can perform the task (AlMazrouei & Pech, 2014).

Public Sector Preference

Another challenge facing the UAE human resource sector is the locals’ preference of the public sector employment. There is a large proportion of nationals in the public sector as compared to the private sector. This preference is mainly associated with the benefits enjoyed by public sector employees ranging from job security, better working conditions, and higher compensations. This issue is also receiving reforms aiming to eradicate barriers to employment in the private sector. The country is undertaking reforms on its economy, diversifying and privatizing most of its industries. The reforms will ensure that the country’s labor force is utilized throughout its economy.

Youth Unemployment

High rate of unemployment has been a challenge, especially among the young individuals. First-time job seekers lack the skills and knowledge required in the current sophisticated economy of the UAE. The youths’ skills and knowledge and the employers’ requirements could be mismatching; a case commonly pointed out in private sectors. Lack of education among youths has also caused unemployment problems; most have not attained post-secondary degrees, most of these being male youths.

Skill Mismatch

The youth unemployment challenge may be associated with our fourth challenge of skill mismatch. There have been several complaints that the education system and training in UAE do not adequately prepare students to meet the required skills of the current economy. The country has expanded its education institutions increasing access to both primary and education for its citizens. There has been a rapid increase in the level of literacy in most parts of the country. However, there is still poor quality of both primary and secondary education. It is argued that the products from secondary institutions do not meet the international standards and are not prepared to enter the job market; they also have difficulty securing competitive university courses. Low-performance levels on students’ international assessments reveal the poor education standards. Programs like engineering, sciences and technology also have low levels of students undertaking them (Wilkins, 2001). There is also very low entry into universities as compared to secondary admissions. The government is undertaking reforms to improve access to education, quality education and training. Primary and secondary education has been made the priority to the government reforms with aims to improve it. Higher education and training aim to improve the quality of education, the government has increased higher education institutions and are involving international bodies for the university accreditations (Gonzalez et al., 2011).

National Culture

The country’s Arab culture has also played a major role in limiting human resource development. First, most women have received university education (over two-thirds), but this number is not reflecting in the country’s workforce. About 12% of women are employed, most of them being in the health and education sectors. Only a small percentage of women is included in the levels of leadership and management in any organization. The traditional Arab practices views female as being inferior as compared to men and hence are not supposed to compete with them in the job market.

However, this issue is receiving some light due to shifting of women’s attitudes towards equity in employment. They are now striving for employment even in higher levels within the organization. Labor Laws are also being changed to give women same opportunities and benefits as their male counterparts. Another issue within the Arab culture is the family relationships in the workplace. Industries owned and controlled by families by families dominate the private sector. A family forms the strongest unit within the Arab culture; recruitment is, therefore, based on family ties and tribal relationships instead of qualification or even experience. Top management will also be made up of the heads of a family who hardly hand over management roles. Consequently, their organizations are poorly managed. High competition and better management styles are however changing this issue. The access to education by most of the family members also helps in better management of these organizations.

Increasing Demand for Low-Skilled Labor

UAE nationals have been known to be selective towards the jobs they want. They look for high-status jobs that are well paying, short working hours and less demanding. The government is also in a dilemma on manual jobs as they cannot force the locals to take up such employments. Currently, most families have substantial wealth that trickles down to their children, and when they are done with their education, those who decide to pursue education; their job search is limited to banking and financial institutions. The manual and low-status jobs have been largely associated with foreigners who do not have to be so choosy about jobs (Yaghi, 2013). The government has tried to harmonize the working conditions of most of the jobs to try to lure the Nationals into accepting these kinds of jobs (Gonzalez et. al., 2011). The businesses have also raised their standards regarding payments and benefits that have made the nationals opt for their jobs. The privatization of industries by the government will ensure that nationals do not just seek jobs in public sectors but also private industries.


United Arab Emirates has large revenue base due to the large resource deposits (oil and gas). These revenues have enabled the country to make giant steps regarding social and economic developments within a very short span of time. The human resource sector has been strained with a mismatch between high labor demand and low supply. The Foreign workforce has taken up most of the jobs creating human resource problems within the Nationals. The Government of UAE has put in place different measures to help its citizens meet the requirements of the dynamic job market. Much effort has been put on training and education development that will ensure the effectiveness of the workforce and productivity maximization. The country also needs to ensure the long-term sustainability of its economy by its human resource endowment.






AlMazrouei, H., & J. Pech, R. (2014). Expatriates in the UAE: advance training eases cultural adjustments. Journal of Business Strategy, 35(3), 47-54.

Gonzalez, G., Karoly, L. A., Constant, L., Salem, H., & Goldman, C. A. (2011). Facing Human Capital Challenges of the 21st Century. QNRS Repository, 2011(1), 3563.

Shihab, M. (2001). Economic Development in the UAE. United Arab Emirates: a new perspective, 249-259.

Wilkins, S. (2001). International briefing 9: training and development in the United Arab Emirates. International Journal of Training and Development, 5(2), 153-165.

Yaghi, A., & Yaghi, I. (2013). Human resource diversity in the United Arab Emirates: empirical study. Education, Business and Society: Contemporary Middle Eastern Issues, 6(1), 15-30.

Yearbook, U. A. E. (2007). Social development. UAE Interact, 211-264.

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