Every day when my dad would get home from work with his briefcase, he would put it down beside the TV, because that is where my brothers and I would be sitting, glued to the screen, waiting for him to come home. When we would visit my grandparents in Scotland, I remember my late grandfather walking in from work with a briefcase, then we would then sit down and talk before we got ready for an early evening meal.
Both my father and grandfather worked for large oil companies: my dad was with ADMA and my grandfather with BP. In their days, working for one company for life was the norm; it was like a family. As the UAE grew economically, for many, being given a job, and being able to keep that job, was and still is also considered the norm.
In a speech to more than 3,000 Emirati students, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs, said: “There are no more comfortable jobs. If you want to participate in shaping the future then you need to stop thinking of a government job.” It was a wake-up call about how the UAE is changing. It’s a shift from how government employment has been seen as more of a socio-economic right than a means to create and increase national value.
Numbers are usually a good indicator. At the Sharjah National Career Fair last month, Tariq bin Khadim, the Government’s human resources director, said that demand for government jobs in Sharjah is outstripping supply. Of the 6,000 Emirati jobseekers in Sharjah, positions were found for about 3,500.
When I got my first job, a government one, I bought a briefcase, even though I had nothing to put in it – to me, that was the working world I knew and had prepared for. I was never really pushed to discover a world beyond what my family had shown me; never driven to discover how I was going to make an impact on the world. I assumed that some government entity would call me, interview me, give me a job and dictate what I did and how I did it.
So who needs to create a mind-shift among young Emiratis? Or who is the biggest roadblock to changing the mentality of comfort? I believe it’s parents. I have been touring schools and universities for almost two years giving lectures on work and careers. The question I’m asked the most is: “How do I convince my parents to let me do the work I am passionate about and not the work they want me to do?” Parents want their children to be stable, but happiness isn’t always part of that plan. And what worked for a career 30 years ago is different that what works today, in many respects.
Parents play a big role in the way their children think about life and work. If parents don’t support their children to be creative and seek work where they can excel, they’re doing them a disservice. Parents should support what their children are passionate about. That’s what gives them an advantage in the world. Whether they want to be a dancer, musician, scientist or an explorer, parents should open their minds to all the possibilities. The only demand is that their children are dedicated and want to excel in something they love, because being miserable doing something they hate is a recipe for failure.
I started as a trainee in a government role, yet today I’m a freelance writer and public speaker. I have no office and no structured work day. My work ranges from travelling and covering social-media news for a government entity to giving lectures at a university, as well as writing these columns. There’s never a day when I’m comfortable, which means I’m growing and better prepared for any challenges tomorrow may bring. If parents want to support this country’s future, they need to support their children to be themselves and be all they can be.
Khalid Al Ameri is an Emirati columnist and social commentator. He lives in Abu Dhabi with his wife and two sons.