The Qatarisation process has had a wide success in the public sector and now with efforts are on to push the process into the private sector, questions are being asked if it is worth its while to do that.
According to experts from recruitment agencies and labour organisations, meritocracy and economic efficiency are the two main factors that run the risk of being sacrificed if the job nationalisation process is steamrolled into trade and industry.
But on the other side the country’s planners must make sure that citizens are fully integrated into Qatar’s social and economic life and that is not possible without their active participation in the job market.
Let numbers speak
Unemployed Qatari citizens account for 4.1 percent of the total economically active population of the country with the ratio being 20 times higher compared with non-Qatari unemployment rate which is 0.2 percent, and more than eight times higher than the general unemployment rate in the country which is 0.5 percent.
Around 50,000 Qataris are employed in the public sector, although the overall Qatari/non-Qatari ratio in the total labour force is 1: 8.
An overwhelming majority (96 percent) of Qataris are employed in the public and mixed sectors and their participation in the private sector has actually been declining. It is currently four percent, down from 10 percent in 1986.
One of the objectives of Qatar’s National Development Strategy (NDS 2011-16) is to have 15 percent Qatari nationals in private jobs, and this means that the current ratio should more than treble in just a matter of four years.
The official strategy to make this happen includes the establishment of an entrepreneurship initiative targeting youth and Qatari women, lowering attitudinal barriers to women’s employment and reducing differentials in compensation between the public and private sectors.
What’s the problem?
According to reports in the local Arabic and English media the 60 percent salary increase for all Qatari public servants and 120 percent for senior defence personnel have had an adverse impact on the job nationalisation drive in the private sector as young Qatari citizens looking for employment now aspire to garb state jobs.
In other words, the salary increment for the defence and public servants has made it difficult for the country’s planners to achieve the job nationalisation goal as envisioned in the NDS (2011-16) as the differentials in compensation between public and private sector have increased instead of having been reduced.
But disparities in salaries and perks in the public and private sectors are just one of the reasons why the policy of Qatarisation is struggling to succeed in the private sector. According to a report ‘Workforce Nationalisation in the Gulf Cooperation Council States’ by Kasim Randeree, Senior Researcher at Said Business School and Kellogg College, University of Oxford, and published by Georgetown School of Foreign Service in Qatar’s Centre for International and Regional Studies (CIRS), one of the problems Qatarisation is facing is the low rate of competition in the labour market in terms of public/private, national/expatriate, and male/female, which has caused low mobility and an ineffective allocation of supply and demand for skills.
The National Development Strategy includes a labour productivity strategy to have a high-productivity labour force that is adequately rewarded to encourage high rates of participation by Qataris.
To achieve this, the government aims to reduce the supply of low-cost workers, increase the attractiveness of capital investments and high-skilled labour force.
The main challenges faced in management of human resources in Qatar are to motivate citizens to participate actively in the national economy, to raise skill levels among nationals and to provide a favourable work environment that enables them (nationals) to recognise and apply their potentials.
The best option suggested by some experts working in recruitment agencies is to better the cooperation between education and training institutions in order to have a population ready to enter the job market and to compete without inefficient shortcuts.
According to Randeree’s study, most training centres lack human and financial resources, resulting in a weak strategy for workforce development in Qatar. According to Qatar Population Status 2011 data, in 2010 there were 846 training programmes in Qatar, of which there were fewer in the private sector.
The number of trainees at all these centres reached 68,000 in 2010, but over 63 percent of them were non-Qatari trainees, showing that even where facilities were available, there were not many Qatari takers.
Some young Qataris who had just graduated from prestigious universities say they have shot off a lot of job applications to a number of institutions and companies in Qatar but in vain.
What they are actually looking for is just an opportunity to have some hands-on experience so they better their prospects of landing jobs. “I ask the institutions to train young Qataris who are fresh out of a university and give them a chance,” Turki Al Rumaihi, a young Qatari engineering graduate from the UK said in an interview.
Many other young Qatari fresh graduates have a similar plea to make. But often what is offered to Qataris are senior positions, leaving those who might need some experience and training to actually be able to do the job in a difficult situation.
If the idea is to integrate the nationals in their own economy and society, one should take into consideration training and all job positions, not just the top ones. Young nationals should be hired at entry-level positions and trained to work their way through the organisational hierarchy, experts believe.
This will provide them the knowledge and experience required to be a good decision-maker, and it will also integrate them in the social and labour environment, avoiding social clashes with the 75 percent of the population of Qatar being composed of foreigners who work and live here contributing 95 percent of the Qatari economy, they say.
Offering high positions to nationals who do not have the requisite qualifications or experience and following a quota-based logic, would result in a huge failure of the policy and eventually lead to social tension, experts believe.
In fact, such a system would be harmful. Citizens would then not bother to learn how to do the job and deepen their dependence on advisors, while the national economy would continue to heavily rely on foreign workers.
For a workforce nationalisation policy to be successful with the citizens playing a more central role in the development of their national economy, the focus must be on improving the education system with a transfer of knowledge from expatriates to citizens and training the resultant workforce.
But what is actually happening in the labour market?
Manpower agencies often get requests to hire Qataris to fill in higher positions. But most Qatari male workers with only 10.7 years of education and generally not keen on higher studies and training in the respective fields are often not suitable or professionally geared to take up senior positions reserved for them that require skills and experiences to deal with high responsibilities.
According to Qatar Population Status 2011 report published by the Permanent Population Committee, a total of 637 academic degrees were issued by Qatar University during 2009-2010 of which only 86 were in the engineering stream and 262 for arts and science subjects, showing a gap of technical competence and skills which are in demand the most in the private sector.
If Qatari nationals are asked to take up senior positions irrespective of their experience and skills, the job needs to be done somehow, which means that the companies must hire a number of advisors, assistants or consultants to help “the boss”.
This mechanism would not only make the whole human resource structures of a company heavy and slow, but the process itself quite expensive and economically inefficient. In the end, operating costs would work out to be much higher and eat into a company’s profitability.
If companies are forced to hire nationals to take up higher positions, the risk is that most businesses would relocate out of the country for fear of losing their qualified foreign workers, say the experts.
This is exactly what happened in Saudi Arabia according to Ian Bremmer, author of “The Saudi Paradox”, Professor at Columbia University, President and Founder of Eurasia Group, a leading global political risk research and consulting firm.
The Qatari government, fortunately, is quite flexible in implementing its job nationalisation policy as compared to other GCC countries such as Saudi Arabia, and is not imposing any specific percentage or quota of Qataris for private companies.
According to Randeree’s research “a position-based quota system where penalties are given for non-compliance are simply ineffective as a long-term strategy and results in poorly qualified and experiences personnel”.
What are we risking?
According to Zafiris Tzannatos, Senior Regional Advisor on Employment Policy and Macroeconomics at the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the risks of not implementing in the right way this nationalization policy are social, political and economic.
The social price is that the country’s development will be seconded indefinitely to foreign experts, if nationals do not build up knowledge, passion and skills.
The economic price of a wrongly implemented system of workforce nationalisation will be that it would work only till the hydrocarbon economy supports it, resulting in a never self-sufficient system, indeed not sustainable.
The real challenge is to overcome the hydrocarbon dependence and turn Qatar into a knowledge-based economy, service-oriented with high-tech industries and a healthy private sector.
The political price of a degenerated labour market that doesn’t comply with the ambitions of the people is evident in the Arab world: The Arab Spring. The lesson from the region is clear.
“Mutual responsibility is needed: the citizens expect the government to help them and the individuals have to deliver, too,” Tzannatos told The Peninsula.
“We will see that Qatarisation is succeeding and is sustainable only when it will reduce its reliance on gas and on the public sector,” he concluded.
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