Attracting young Emiratis into the finance and accounting industry is a real challenge. Rita Aoun Rizk advocates for a fresher approach, by raising awareness and knowledge about the profession at school level… 

Recently, a joint ICAEW/DFSA Breakfast meeting sought to address the topic of attracting Emirati talent to the Finance Sector.

Recently, a joint ICAEW/DFSA Breakfast meeting sought to address the topic of attracting Emirati talent to the Finance Sector.

THE CONTEXT for the debate about Emiratisation is a rapidly changing business and employment landscape driven by macro-economic policy, increased competition to attract and retain talent, and the need for diversity in the workplace to improve performance at all levels.

Recently, a joint ICAEW/DFSA Breakfast meeting sought to address the topic of attracting Emirati talent to the Finance Sector, where a diverse group of stakeholders recognised that this is a real challenge and at the same time an opportunity not just for the finance sector, but for all industry sectors.

The UAE labour market is becoming more sophisticated, and thanks to an open and diverse economy, global employers are increasingly focusing on this country offering new careers, and it seems ever increasing compensation packages to attract the best talent.

Emirati graduates are being courted to enter new and exciting industry sectors and they have multiple career choices like never before. In short, the UAE is no different to the reality highlighted in the PwC Global CEO Survey 2012, which found that talent management remains the number one priority for businesses leaders around the globe.

Against this backdrop, the solution to attract Emirati talent into the finance sector perhaps lies in a fresh approach compared to traditional methods, comprising a range of measures implemented and championed by government, the major accounting firms, professional bodies, educators and Emirati leaders. Together, these stakeholders can act in unison to attract young Emiratis considering their future careers.

Raising awareness
A key place to start is at school level in order to raise awareness and knowledge about the accounting and finance profession. Most of us will remember being inspired to make career choices at school age, and a co-ordinated approach to educate and inspire young Emiratis will help to remove some of the barriers and out-dated perceptions about the profession.

In particular, explaining the many varied paths of a finance career, the value of a professional qualification for future personal growth, and contributing the development of the UAE economy and society overall are crucial themes to engage young hearts and minds.

Strengthening the links between schools and universities which provide finance and accounting degrees is essential for an effective outcome for this initiative and it must be sustained to have full impact.

Commentators have widely differing views on the importance of remuneration in attracting Emirati talent, especially the divergence between the salary levels paid to young Emiratis entering the state sector compared to the private sector.

Moreover, the hours and commitment required to finish studies in the finance sector whilst holding down a full time job are sometimes seen by some as a deterrent.

However, evidence suggests that if a young graduate has a passion for the job, they will work unlimited hours hungry to learn and develop – witness the long hours worked by young employees at Google, Facebook and Apple. In the end, it is about making the employer brands and the careers they offer attractive, flexible and exciting.

Creative remuneration and terms of employment specifically targeted at young Emiratis will encourage them to join the profession rather than the traditional ‘one size fits all’ approach. This is a challenge for accounting and finance companies to think ‘out of the box’ and re-examine existing policies. More broadly it is an industry challenge that requires co-ordination to avoid wild variations among employers or long-term adverse cost consequences.

At the same time, the discrepancy between state sector and private sector remuneration may be addressed to encourage Emiratis to pursue careers in the private sector. Specific financial support such as scholarships or bursaries targeted at the finance sector, building on the programmes of the ICAEW, will help encourage Emiratis to enter the profession and bridge the gap in a planned way.

Again, creative thinking between government, employers and the professional bodies will be required to implement such a policy successfully and broadly.

Retention & Development
It is a basic truism that it is much cheaper in the long-run to retain staff rather than to constantly replace leavers disenchanted with their careers. Employers may consider using more rounded and tailored evaluation processes to more accurately identify new Emirati entrants who are suited to the profession, including such aspects as emotional intelligence and natural career preferences.

This starts from the recruitment stage where it is vital to ensure that entrants have been assessed thoroughly as being suited for a career in the profession. Perhaps in the past there has been too much reliance on the hard skills side of the equation and not enough emphasis placed on the soft or behavioural skills side.

Ultimately, there will always be an ebb and flow of entrants and leavers in the accounting and finance sphere just like any other industry or profession.

However, when Emiratis leave to move into more senior roles in the state and private sectors, it should be viewed as a success rather than a failure. This is the case for example in the oil and gas sector in the UAE where the sustained training and development of young nationals over many years has created a benchmark talent pool.

Why not seek to do the same and establish the finance and accounting alumni as a benchmark talent pool of future Emirati leaders?

Mentoring & Role Models
Whether it is Richard Branson in the aviation sector, Steve Jobs in IT, or Warren Buffet in Investment, all have inspired young entrants into their respective industries through their example and their charisma.

More subtly but just as importantly, many of us have stayed the course in the ups and downs of our careers thanks to timely counsel from mentors both inside and outside the workplace. The opportunity to develop Emirati mentors and role models in the finance sector must be taken more seriously in order to inspire younger Emiratis. Their success is the most solid evidence and proof that a finance career can in fact be compelling and real.

Training senior Emiratis in the industry to act as mentors and coaches to impart their skills and expertise requires recognising their achievements and asking them to re-invest in younger emerging talent. It is a contribution to society as well as the industry which will develop future leaders in the community. This initiative requires provision of specialist training to develop and support the talent pool of mentors and role models.

Task Force
In conclusion, the above measures could form the basis of an integrated strategy to position the finance and accounting sector as an attractive and long-term career path for Emiratis.

To be successful, there needs to be a new level of co-ordination and co-operation between the various stakeholders such that scare resources in a competitive industry are wisely used, and a clear, positive message is communicated to Emiratis who have multiple career choices.

A joint stakeholder task force could be formed to make the start and develop these strategies in more depth. In the end, the profession will have its rightful place as a vital and key contributor to the long-term development of the UAE economy and wider society.

Quite simply, the challenge is too important to be ignored.

* By Rita Aoun Rizk – Rita is a qualified occupational psychologist with a passion to improve human capital performance and well-being at work. As a managing partner of Tamayyaz, she and her team have developed a range of tailored programmes targeted at the development of nationals as future leaders. Her educational background and extensive experience in the region has allowed her to help people achieve and sustain real behavioural change.