Cracking the code: Understanding the UAE’s unique hiring benchmarks

Over the last decade, the UAE has made significant strides to establish itself as one of the top destinations for global talent. In 2021, the UAE Strategy for Talent Attraction and Retention was approved by the cabinet, and since then has launched several policies and programs to cement the country’s position as a leader in talent competitiveness.

Earlier this year, the UAE ranked first globally in the Talent Attractiveness Index as per the Global Prosperity Index 2023, issued by the UK’s Legatum Institute.

There are several factors that contribute to making the UAE’s workplace such a unique and lucrative prospect for talent. The Talent Enterprise’s research indicates that the country’s workplace environment is far more diverse, digitised, dedicated and dynamic than the rest of the world.

Inclusivity reporting is the key to business success in the UAE and beyond

UAE’s growing female workforce strength

Women empowerment has been a key focus area for the UAE, led by the efforts of the government and the Gender Balance Council, and strongly supported by the nation’s private sector. In 2020, the UAE issued a federal law ensuring equal pay for men and women in the private sector. In addition to this, the UAE has also been a leader in women’s representation in parliament.

As such, the UAE is one of the rare regions in the world still witnessing an increasing number of women in the workplace. According to The Talent Enterprise and based on data from the World Bank, the UAE has a current female labour force participation of 55 percent, as compared to 47 percent a decade ago, resulting in a significant increase in women in the workforce during this time.

This is clearly visible today, as the country prepares to host COP28, the biggest climate conference in the world. Over 65 percent of roles within the COP28 leadership team, and 50 percent of positions in the management team, are held by Emirati women.

Diversity in the workforce

Another key advantage the UAE has is its expansive cultural footprint. The UAE is home to a culturally diverse society, with expatriates from over 200 countries making up more than 80 percent of the population. Furthermore, we have also witnessed a significantly more varied range of age groups in the UAE workforce, with Baby Boomers, Gen Xs, Millennials and Gen Zs, all working together.

With such a varied and dynamic pool, talent assessments and hiring benchmarks need to be pivoted to focus on key characteristics and personality traits, rather than just skills and education.

Personal traits such as comfort with ambiguity, curiosity, empathy, confidence, resilience, a growth mindset, and cognitive talents are among the most important predictors of workplace success in the UAE. This differs in contrast to the US and the UK, where the workforce is relatively homogenous.

The role of technology

The Emirates has been a frontrunner in technological developments. While this has primarily been led by the government, it is also partly due to the open-minded business culture and the presence of so many fast-growing businesses looking for innovative ways to sustain their productivity and performance as they expand.

Furthermore, the country’s public sector is amongst the most progressive in its approach to talent assessments. While the world over, technology is revolutionising the way talent is assessed – from AI-driven psychometric tests to virtual reality-based skill assessments, the adoption of such technologies in the UAE needs to be nuanced.

The diverse cultural fabric here demands that technology be sensitive to varying social and ethical norms. This means, for instance, developing algorithms that are free of cultural biases or creating virtual environments that respect religious and social idiosyncrasies. Therefore, technology in the UAE serves not just as a tool, but also as a bridge, ensuring that modern hiring practices are aligned with local sensibilities.

UAE Strategy for Talent Attraction and Retention
The Emiratres is home to a culturally diverse society, with expatriates from over 200 countries making up more than 80 percent of the population

The impact of Emiratisation

Another differentiating factor is the concept of Emiratisation, a policy that aims to integrate UAE nationals into key sectors of the economy. This leads to hiring benchmarks that are deeply influenced by this national objective.

Detailed, highly granular local benchmarks, totally Arabised solutions and culturally relevant content are all critically important to ensure fair and objective assessment policies and practices.

Old-fashioned assessments developed in the mid-twentieth century with Western research groups are clearly not appropriate for a young, growing, highly educated Emirati workforce in the mid twenty-first century. Therefore, hiring benchmarks in the UAE are not merely about finding the ‘best’ candidate in a global sense, but instead aligning with local socio-economic objectives.

Family-owned businesses and loyalty

Family-owned businesses make up approximately 90 percent of the UAE’s private sector and employ a substantial proportion of the emirate’s workforce. These businesses often consider loyalty and long-term commitment as crucial hiring benchmarks.

Unlike in Silicon Valley, where job-hopping is commonplace, many companies in the UAE prize long-term employment and internal promotions as markers of a candidate’s suitability. Therefore, talent assessment tools must be designed to evaluate not just competency, but also attributes related to organisational commitment.

Our data indicates that average levels of employee engagement are higher in the Emirates, with both expatriates and Emiratis being highly ambitious and focused on the importance of their work and career than we see elsewhere.

In summary, the UAE presents a fascinating array of challenges and opportunities in talent assessment, necessitating a deep understanding of local norms and policies. The universal best practices that companies rely upon elsewhere may need to be reconsidered and adapted to suit the complexities of the UAE market.

It’s a different ball game here, but with the right approach, it’s one that offers rich rewards. For businesses to thrive in this dynamic environment, recognising these distinctions is not just a matter of compliance; it’s a strategic imperative. Only then can they tailor their hiring benchmarks to find the talent that will not just fit, but excel within this vibrant context.

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