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Thu 11 Jan 2007 12:00 AM

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Talent begins at home

A lot needs to be done in every discipline for the UAE to leap forward, says Rashid Galadari.

A lot needs to be done in every discipline for the UAE to leap forward but education requires the most attention, says Rashid Galadari.

At a major international petroleum conference held in Dubai a few weeks ago, one of the issues on the table was the need to understand that the supply of labour in skilled and semi-skilled fields is no longer a given in developing countries. And that in the next ten years the number of skilled workers will dramatically drop, not because they don't exist but because their own economies will give them a better deal.

If that is already taking place in the lower stratas in a small way it is already happening a lot quicker at the more qualified rungs of the ladder. The dependence on outside acumen and skills can no longer be factored into any other equation as something that can be easily accessed.

If the dominant economic activity of oil production and its by-products is feeling the pinch and has the courage and the statistics to talk about the possibility of a rapidly increasing loss of human resources, it stands to reason that the white flag is being waved. Things have to change. And change now.

The present absence of talent and the inability to supply it to meet demands, however, is being compensated by tangible hikes in salaries. This has been reflected in a research exercise produced by recruitment firm Macdonald and Company. It shows wages in the real estate development sector across the GCC for those employed in technical and development roles rose by 15% last year.

In an ironic way this is not a celebratory indicator but one that suggests that while incentive-driven recruitment can be an adequate lure on a temporary basis, even the western expatriate flow will eventually dry up and the only harvest that the region can depend on is home-grown talent.

Beyond a point salary hikes and perks can cross the line of logic and create a level of inflation. By the very token of limited resources in manpower, a company might find itself paying first-rate money for second-rate workforces at all levels. The quality will drop and the pursuit of excellence will slow down if that trap is sprung.

This is something that has to be addressed now. Indeed, it should have been addressed a decade ago.

There is no disagreement on the fact that the numbers do not exist to create a viable work pyramid and it falls woefully short against the speed of growth in construction, finance, business, and in higher levels of management.

A few steps have already been taken. Forward thinking countries have moved into education and tied up with prestigious institutions from different parts of the world. Cornell in Qatar, the Manchester Business school and an affiliation with Harvard here in the UAE, but these are the indeed early starts and certainly not enough.

What is called for is a revolution in education where a whole generation gets the best to teach the best and in an across the board range of disciplines. Whether it is an MIT equivalent set up or a school of Economics or a slew of information technology, medical and scientific institutions, the call must be made sooner rather than later.

It is a massive enterprise to build this infrastructure but it has to be done.

While in a place like Dubai locals only count for 20% of a population of over 4 million people, not enough are being educated abroad to fill the posts.

Again, every region has its own work ethos and it is only when men and women are taught in their environment that the talent and expertise flourishes at its best.

Much has been made of the mindset of the local population and that they will not do specific jobs. This is erroneous and has to be set right.

There is no dip in pride in working in your own country whatever you do.

The reliance on outsiders is fading. This will happen according to projected demographics with the percentage of locals increasing exponentially and as laws reduce expatriate movement. The developing economies of the traditional labour-rich nations will also make leaving home far less attractive.

These dynamics are already occurring and human resource experts confess that wooing good people is not as easy a task as it once was.

Once the mindset is revised and the realisation sets in that what is yours must be protected and preserved can one begin to tackle urban and semi-urban problems like congestion, pollution, traffic, time loss in waiting, work productivity and general growth.

Rashid AW Galadari is the chairman of Galadari Investment Office (GIO).

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