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UAE to invest $1.7bn to place more Emiratis in private sector jobs

Public sector jobs have traditionally been preferred by Emiratis, but the Nafis programme seeks to change those perceptions Dubai Tourism/Katarina Premfors
Public sector jobs have traditionally been preferred by Emiratis, but Nafis incentives are changing that
  • 36,000 target set for 2024
  • 42,000 joined last year
  • Nafis programme offers perks

The UAE is aiming to add 36,000 Emiratis to the private sector workforce this year and has approved a $1.7 billion budget to support Emiratisation.

The number of UAE nationals working in the private sector was about 92,000 by the end of 2023, according to the Emirati Talent Competitiveness Council.

Nearly 42,000 joined private businesses last year, with many attracted by incentives offered under the Nafis programme.

Emiratis have traditionally preferred public sector jobs, based on perceptions that they offer higher status and better rewards.

Nafis, which began in 2021, seeks to change those impressions by providing perks including an Emirati salary support scheme for businesses.

The number of Emiratis who have joined the private sector since the programme’s launch and remained employed until the end of 2023 stands at more than 62,000, the council said.

The amount paid to the beneficiaries of the programme in the same period reached AED4.2 billion ($1.1 billion).

The council’s board has approved a budget of AED6.4 billion for this year to help meet its latest target.

At its board meeting on Monday, the council said Nafis had led to a “qualitative shift” in Emirati private sector employment.

Scott Cairns, managing director of Creation Business Consultants in Dubai, told AGBI that despite the programme’s successes, difficulties in retaining Emirati employees persist. 

“Continuous evaluation is crucial for ensuring the programme’s sustained success,” he said.

Some industries still face a skills gap, according to Cairns, and promoting the advantages of private sector employment also “remains a challenge”. 

A 2023 survey of 500 Emiratis in private sector jobs, conducted by PwC, found that two-thirds were considering a return to the public sector. 

Longer-term prospects and the overall working experience were not matching up to employees’ expectations, the survey suggested. 

“Unless companies do more to boost national talent retention through targeted investment there is a risk that recruitment programmes will fail to deliver sustained economic development for the UAE or tangible long-term business benefits,” said PwC.

Cairns pointed out that Emiratisation also enhances regulatory compliance, fosters cultural understanding and bolsters a company’s reputation. 

Under Ministry of Human Resources & Emiratisation regulations, businesses with 20 to 49 employees in specific sectors must hire at least one Emirati this year and another in 2025.

Penalties of AED96,000 will be imposed in January 2025 on companies that do not comply in 2024. This will increase to AED108,000 in January 2026. 

Companies with 50 or more employees are required to achieve 2 percent annual growth in the number of Emiratis in skilled jobs.

Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the UAE’s vice president and the chairman of the talent council, praised the “strong collaboration” between the government and private sector on Monday – while also emphasising the need to “redouble” efforts to create more and better-quality job opportunities.

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