PwC Middle East has issued its first-ever 2023 Emiratisation Survey, The Retention Riddle: How to keep Emirati talent in the private sector, that explores how the UAE is actualising the country’s national vision mandate of boosting Emirati representation in the private-sector workforce.
The survey polled 500 nationals working across the UAE public and private sectors and new graduates emerging into the workplace. It finds that while interest in private-sector employment in the UAE is beginning to increase among the younger generation, nationals often do not stay the course. Two-thirds of those currently working in private companies are considering a return to the public sector.
Additionally, one of the salient themes in the survey is that private sector companies must take further action to boost national talent retention to avoid any risk in delivering sustained economic development for the UAE.
Khaled Bin Braik, Emiratisation Programme Leader - PwC Middle East, commented, “The Emiratisation survey was conducted to create an impact in both public and private sectors, as well as to support the government and economy. Collectively, we all must play a leading role in helping the UAE achieve its shared vision and continue building a sustainable, prosperous economic future. The time has come for us to work together to deliver the agenda of this ambitious nation.”
The survey underpins five key themes as outlined below:
The impetus for change
So far, the UAE economy has heavily relied on expatriate workers, who represent 89% of the population and 92% of the workforce. Emiratis account for just 4% of employees in the private sector today.
Driving nationalisation at scale
In and beyond the GCC, countries are increasingly adopting nationalisation initiatives at scale to enhance the participation of nationals in the labour market, particularly in the private sector. 75,000 is the target number of Emiratis the UAE government aims to be integrated within the UAE private sector by 2026. Active measures include cross-cutting policies, targeted regulations, upskilling initiatives, incentives to employers, and dedicated investments to boost job opportunities and connect labour-market stakeholders.
Harnessing growing graduate interest in private-sector work
According to the survey, over half of participating Emirati graduates said they would likely join the private sector upon completing their studies. Yet, many also perceive barriers to entry.
Contrasting perceptions of the public and private sectors
In the survey, most public and private sector employees reported satisfaction with their overall job experience; more than 8 in 10 are happy with their current learning and development opportunities, and roughly two-thirds believe that there is a clear path for career progression – as well as the existence of a fair and equitable performance management system.
Private-sector leaders need to act now
While the government continues to be the leading driver of nationalisation in the UAE, the onus is now on private-sector leaders to take up the challenge. That means transitioning from playing a supporting role to a leading one in driving nationalisation. The survey highlights seven steps for retaining nationals in the private sector.
With the UAE experiencing globalisation, digital and urban transformation and sustainability are reshaping labour demand; this has created jobs that require new skills while making other employment opportunities and skills obsolete. The Emiratisation Survey 2023 emphasises that understanding and responding to the preconceptions and preferences of Emirati employees are crucial if employers are to break down traditional barriers and secure the strongest appointments long-term.
PwC Middle East prioritises nationalisation as a core part of its people strategy, aligning with its purpose of solving client problems and building trust. Since 2012, PwC has launched the "Watani" programme, ensuring UAE national representation across service lines. This Emiratisation initiative, supports national talent at every career stage, offering dedicated programs, client exchanges, and comprehensive training opportunities. As part of PwC Middle East’s New Equation strategy, the firm upskills its workforce, fostering a community of solvers with human-led and tech-powered solutions.