Qatarization

June 14, 2010 at 12:01 pm (education, Opinion, Qatari culture, Society) ()

Qatarization seems to be the hottest topic these days and it also seems to be deeply related to the tension between foreigners and Qataris. So I would like to dedicate this post to discuss ‘Qatarization’

Qatarization is part of the newest trend in the gulf, Gulfization. All six countries of the GCC has started similar labour market strategies and Qatar is no exception. The need to initiate such strategy was due to recognition of threats of increase dependence on foreign labour and lack of developed national workforce. But the huge influx of labour was inevitable since the oil boom, as rapid growth required foreign professional labour to fill the gap of insufficient national labour. Moreover, there has been, and still many challenges to the development of Qatari human capital, and until these challenges were addressed and solved, a professional foreign labour was heavily imported.

Since the oil boom and until today, most nationals are employed within the public sector for several reasons. First, many of them do not have the necessary skills to work in private sector; second, even if they acquired the necessary skills needed the private sector lacked incentives compared with public sector and finally, some Qataris might feel overwhelmed by foreigners who dominate private sector and so do not feel comfortable in such environment.

However, one must point out that Qatari government employs more than what it actually needs as a measure for income distribution and creating jobs to ensure its legitimacy. What matters is not the number of the people employed, what matters is their productivity and it is something hard to measure. As for employment, the greater part of the national population were assured governmental functions or employment provided by the State. One must indicate, during the early popularization of such policies especially that of employment, significant number of nationals still had minimal education and even sometimes approaching illiterately levels. This had made it clear that the majority of state employees were misallocated, either under qualified or underutilized. If Qatar had a different economic model in the sense of extraction of finance from down to the top, this chunk of state employees would have been unneeded and in the competitive developed economies model, they would have gotten rid of. However, the purpose of this system is not similar to that of the western world, but it is simply to circulate the excess of GDP, granting a political stability through a gratified population. Thus, making the approach toward development unstable, where Qatar would have been better off investing in its human capital, education and health, and understood the long run impact it would had on development.

Moving forward, the government has recognized such challenges and addressed them through diversifying economy; education reform; labour market strategy and Qatarization. I won’t go through details of LMS and goals of Qatraization. What I would like to discuss is what is wrong with Qatarization strategy.

First, Qatarization policy is still not fully developed; the policy did not indicate which positions exactly should be Qatarized. It did not also consider that Qatarization could be more difficult in some sectors more than others, such as technical positions in oil based industries. And finally, it is not realistic and didn’t consider that transferring knowledge and technologies would take more than the time expected in the plan.

second, the policy lacks proper monitoring and evaluation system. According to RAND, there has been no deliberate strategy of evaluating the effects of initiated reforms. Even if such thing was intended to happen, the evaluation will face problems of limited experience and lack of data due to lack of administrative state structure, unmonitored population movement and other cultural factors. Due to lack of monitoring, there is no real evidence of the quality of training and care that Qataris are receiving.

What is happening is that Qatar’s labour laws give preference in hiring first to Qataris, then to other Arabs and finally to other foreigner. This could be true in the public sector; however, in the private sector where “ceo’s” are western expats, this is not entirely true. What happens is that these companies are under pressure to fulfil the required quota in a certain time which leads to misallocation of Qataris in different companies. Being in a rush does not allow enough time to create a proper training programme for them.  A lot of western expatriates do not see the necessity of coaching developing and mentoring the newly joining Qatari workface. There is no check and balance system that scrutinize the claimed or propagated high percentage of Qatarization in those companies. Many are holding low paid positions with no opportunity for skill development. And the figures are presented to the Ministry of Labour as evidence of Qatarization are thus deceiving.

Therefore, it is a big possibility that foreign labour hinders the development of national labour. In a study made by Dr Hend Jolo on Human Capital Formation within Oil and Gas Based Industry, she conducted Interviews with recently recruited Qatari workers, who had completed their industrial technical training program. She found that the majority of them were not assigned to operation and production positions which would have given them the opportunity to practice their new skills and knowledge. Instead, they were assigned trivial jobs, non-production tasks such as security guards. Even when some of them were assigned to production jobs, most of the tasks were done by their peer expatriates, which may have prevented them from direct interaction with machinery and plant. This is perhaps due to the lack of job security for the expatriate, partly the result of the announced ‘Qatarization’ policy in the sector. It is, therefore, difficult to expect expatriates to be self-motivated to train Qatari workers and encourage them to develop their skills, though their employment agreements emphasise such task.

The point here is not to put the blame on foreigners for lack of training, the public sector which is fully run by Qataris also suffers from the same problem. One should take a look at promotion and reward policies and see if they are implemented fairly. For example, at the Ministry of Foreign affairs, girls graduating with BA in political science or engineering were not given the same treatment as their fellow male colleagues who graduated from similar universities and started working at the same time. All girls from different departments were shoved in one floor and did not get any promotion or training programs or even the opportunity to participate in projects compared with their male colleagues who had two promotions in two years and were sent abroad on several training courses. This situation created frustration and disappointment among young women graduates who just started their career at the Ministry.

Third, the education system and training are inadequate to create a national workforce that could compete in global markets.  According to RAND education in the Arab region are often ill prepared to work in a global economy. Qatar’s current per pupil expenditure as a percent of GDP per capita is still relatively low. Countries with similar GDP per capita levels invest on average twice as much on their students. This suggests that Qataris will join the labor market with less preparation than their counterparts from other countries.

In Qatar, inappropriate educational background and lack of training were major obstacles contributing to the limited improvement and development of workers’ competence and performance.

Qatarization policy does not regard other factors and externalities that influence its success. To start with, it ignores the important link between education institutions and labour market demand as well as training within different corporations. Ignoring this link results in inability of those institutions in providing industry with the required technical skills.

In this situation, the government is responsible for education while corporations are responsible for training. If the basic education was not provided then this will increase the burden on corporations to spend more on training. At the same time, if employees were provided with excellent education but did not find the proper training they require it will be a lost effort.

Fourth, social attitude and cultural norms are excluded and not considered in the policy.  Despite changes and recent openness in the society, there are still differences of opportunities for education and work between men and women. Increase in women education could lead to false assumption of enhancement in their position in the labour market. There has been indeed development but it is far less than what is expected when considering their educational qualifications. In 2007, two thirds of employed Qatari women had higher education, compared with just 31 per cent of Qatari men.  One should not neglect the broader historical social and political context in which gender relations are constructed. For example, many Qatari women are reluctant to work in jobs that require them to spend long hours at work and away from their families or that involve working in a mixed-gender environment.

In the Brira file blog, an interesting point about Qatari culture was raised.

“ Arabian culture is similar to those of most Eastern cultures in the sense that it is a collective society. Arabian culture emphasizes the group. Confrontation is avoided and disagreement is conveyed privately to protect the person from ‘loss of face’. Words such as “Inshallah” (God willing) are used to convey negative expressions instead of saying a direct ‘No’. Respect for elders, the significance of tradition, family honor and expectations, concern for one’s reputation are deep-rooted principles. It is a fact that Arabs are generous, polite and value loyalty. You may compare these values to those of individualist cultures which Anglo societies fall under. These tend to place emphasis on the individual, goals and expectations of the individual are promoted, there is no need to conform to a group, and people are encouraged to rely on themselves.

These differences lead to cultural shock which symptoms might include: heightened irritability, constant complaints about the climate, utopian ideas concerning one’s previous culture, continuous concern about the purity of water and food, fear of contacting local people, refusal to learn the language, a pressing desire to talk with people who “really make sense”, and preoccupation with returning home. Qatari dissatisfaction is not aimed at expats themselves but at government policies that are overly accommodating to foreigners in managerial roles”

Fifth, government policies are contradicting and do not consider externalities that might influence outcomes of Qatarization as well as ignoring local culture influence. Current governmental strategies are adopted based on the advices and plans of foreign companies and institutes, who view the region as business projects rather than nations and governments who have a duty to build their countries, empower their citizens through a process of sustainable national development – development by the citizen and for the citizen.

The most important externality is transformation of demographics of the labour force and its effects on National work force. These changes lead to imbalance between national and foreign population as well as imbalance between genders. The sudden increase of foreign labour and cultural clash between Qataris and foreigners lead to tension between the two groups as was mentioned earlier by Brira.  Locals started to feel as suffocated minority in their own country where they can’t even speak their own language in shops and restaurants anymore.

According to Dr Ali Khalifa Al-kuwari in his article ‘Demographic Imbalance in Gulf Countries’, Governments of the gulf did not consider that by brining so much labour it could cause some infringement of citizen rights.  Negative externalities such as on infrastructure (housing, sewage, security), society (discrimination, potential assimilation, loss of culture), stability (source of discontent, political pressure), and national pride (dependence on foreigners for key functions and associated vulnerability). National choices and public decisions seem to be unaffected by the demographic imbalance, and disrespectful of the rights of citizens, including the need to safeguard their language, identity and existence. Construction expansion – a nationally unjustified choice – spearheads the so-called development; the loss of the homelands, the disintegration of the national communities, and the endangerment of the future of the coming generations

Dr Al-kuwari says that when nationals become minority groups in their countries, when their cultural, productive and administrative roles are subordinate to those of foreigners, when their living conditions are dependent on donations, administrative decisions, and on an ever diminishing legal protection, they are left helpless in an unfair competition against elite of immigrants who came from different parts of the world. In such a competition, the status of nationals in Qatar would be similar to that of the Malay in Singapore, who have been politically, culturally, socially, and economically subordinated to the Chinese immigrants.

Even after implementing the policy, there is still concentration of nationals in public sector. According to General Secretariat for Development Planning. Qataris constituted only 12% of the labour force in the year 2001. The increase of foreign labour however was so great that it made the slight increase of Qataris participation in national workforce seem insignificant. In the year 2008, Qataris constitute 12% while foreigners were 94%. In 2007, ratio of Qataris to non-Qataris in the labour force was 1:12, compared with 1:6 in 2001.

So are we a spoilt nation or an oppressed nation?

It is true that statistically Qatari citizens enjoy one of the highest GDP income per capita in the world, however, citizens do not really see much of this wealth as there is hardly any data or proof of income distribution. Some might argue that Qatarization simply does not work because people are spoilt and do not need to work.  It is assumed that since the oil boom, the average family income is roughly $60K, and most families far above this through private investments or enterprise. Therefore it is assumed that a large segment of the population does not need to work for the sake of a salary. This means they have ruled out several roles that they do not want to play in organizations or as professionals, including: administrative assistants, or entry level jobs, as well as nearly all jobs that require high contact hours or have low status such as teaching or nursing. How do you motivate a population that does not need to work?  Nationals are shying away from private sector jobs due to low pay and less benefits in comparison to government ministries and departments.
In reality Qataris are not as rich as many assume. Not paying taxes and having free utilities does not mean that the population is living an easy rich life. Each individual within households cannot afford the luxury of not working especially with the increase of inflation in the country. It might be true that Qataris do not accept certain jobs such as cleaning or watering but this is due to strict traditional values that put a lot of pressure on how individuals lead their lives. People might be afraid of losing respect in the society due to their choice of work.

All of this result in continued dependence on foreign labour; misallocation and underutilization of Qataris abilities creating tension and dissatisfaction especially among the youth.

What could be done?

It is actually too soon to evaluate the effects of Qatarization; however, this is not an excuse for not developing a proper evaluation and monitoring system to enhance the strategy. There is defiantly a need for further enhancement of education and creating strong links between education institutions and labour market demands. Without training and obtaining cognitive skills education will not pay off; therefore a strict monitoring of training in different corporation is needed to ensure quality Qatarization.

10 Comments

  1. Saad said,

    Hello Mimi,

    It’s been a while since the last time you blogged. I hope that this is the beginning another active period of blogging.
    Qatarization is indeed one of the hottest topics in Qatar. It’s used to justify many things within the State yet it lack as you said a well established + clear structure that determine what should be Qatarized and what shouldn’t. Our country had a grown a lot during the past decade, and the role of expats became essential in the economy of the State of Qatar. We are not a small country with a small private sector, oil companies, and big public sector. The private sector had grown due to the development within the State and attracted many of the expats.
    The lack of a clear evaluation measures create a dilemma for any observer that wants to assess the whole process.
    The other question that will emerge , is this situation sustainable?
    Are we going to grow more? Or we reached the point of saturation?
    Any careful observation to the current outlook shows clearly that there are still more to come?
    I believe that if Qatar didn’t start to draw clearly the picture of the future it wants, the situation will remain ambiguous to anyone who will try to forecast it.

    Best regards to you Memi

  2. brira said,

    Hi M,
    It seems you have managed to dig at and tackle a topic that is so perplexing one might almost compare it to the debate on the existance of global warming, or more recently the size of one’s foot print.

    Keep up the good work.

    The Brira File
    http://thebrirafile.wordpress.com

  3. Genesis said,

    Dear Mimi
    Thank you for a well-researched and an insightful post
    While we can’t properly evaluate qatarization as a success or a failure in the meantime. As it’s still in it’s first decade while similar experiences at other GCC Countries are in their third decade. Yet, some points must be addressed to achieve our national vision 2030
    – both government and private sector are obliged to present an annual report on qatarization to the general secretariat for the ministries council. This have resulted in random recruiting of qataris in entry level jobs just to reach the quota(it is really sad when me, you and everyone we know become just a number in corporate press release)
    This is not the qatarization we strive for.
    This in my opinion have killed the ambition of the younger generation ( specially those who just completed high school)…why bother to apply for higher education while they can easily get a clerk job or work as security officers for no less than 15k a month in many government or semi government organizations
    Qatarization plans must look for quality not quantity
    – Applying a unified HR law in government offices will result in decline of qatarization in
    Many government corporation (this have already started with the mass resignations of qualified qatari employees in companies like kahramaa & Ashgal and exodus to
    QP,QF or QD
    – Public awareness about the importance of being a knowledge based society . I think it’s about time that qataris start taking QF banners seriously. You won’t believe the amount of budget allocated for training annually at each government/ private companies. Whether in house, local or abroad. Not many benefit from the trainings conducted nor does many take it as a chance to enhance their careers.

    Finally, I think only with proper education will qatarization become beneficiary to both citizens and the country

  4. Alberuni said,

    Its tough to motivate people to find thrill at work & strive for excellence. If they are, they will make the most of even limited opportunities. Qatarization somewhere lacks the motivation component, or the X-factor. Its very much depends on how happy the current beneficiaries are with Qatarization. Whether they feel motivated to come to office everyday, or are they going just for the attendance & salary at the month end. Like a good movie, work of mouth is the best way to make something very sought-after.

  5. intlxpatr said,

    I wish everyone would take the time to read and think about this blog entry. You have taken a complex issue and taken it down to it’s components. Well done, Mimi.

  6. B. said,

    new post! please? :o)

    • mimizwords said,

      LOL how are you B … inshalla new posts coming soon. I had exams, then dissertation (still) and now on vacation thats why things have been slow. But you know what, I expected more replies on this post, especially from all the foreigners who attacked me in my previous posts since they were the ones who said ‘why dont you write about something more useful like Qatarization’ … but I guess they cant be bothered even to read it. which is funny and shows you a lot if you know what I mean.

      new posts coming soon, i promise xoxo

  7. acdc said,

    Great writing!

    Like what Genesis said…”15K for security officers/clerks” That’s thrice as big as what my husband is earning and he is an enginner, for God’s sake.

    Let’s just put it this way, Expat is training a new Qatari with no experience being paid thrice as much what the expat earns, and after the training, what comes next? A termination letter. Seriously, where is justice?

    It must also start with equality, in race,at the least,among expats, the pay, the treatment,living and working conditions and I’m saying about compensation commensurate with the education and experience. I noticed that there is no minimum wage for a specific job/profession. An expat is paid/graded hugely based on his race, next to his/her education or experience.

    I think that there is no definite solution that puts everyone happy, at least, one must get what is due to him/her.

    Just my two cents.

    Cheers!

  8. Ryan said,

    Excellent Blog. I am an expat and have lived in Doha for over 4 years. I thoroughly enjoy living here and have tried to engage in Qatari culture as best I can. My best friend here is probably my Qatari sponsor. Qatarisation is a worrying issue for my business however as I cannot attract talented Qataris as we are not public sector or a strong enough brand. The new laws that are currently under review with Labor dept are very worrying as I do not believe we could fill the 10% Qatari quota no matter how much we tried. Rather than simply trying to ensure Qataris are employed would it not be better to use the oil/gas rent derived from the QP projects to invest in entrepreneurial projects supporting young Qataris with business projects. This would enable them to employ more nationals as their business grows whilst contributing to the economy. There is an old adage… Give a man a fish, he eats for a day. Teach him to fish, he eats for life. Same could be applied. Give a National a job, he fills a statistic, Give them a business (Training and financial support) he/she provides a long term solution.

    I am all for Qatarisation and think the concept is noble and just, implementation however can often be misaligned from the concept.

    It has been a pleasure reading your post. You are obviously an intelligent driven young Qatari. Best of luck with your studies/career

    Ryan

  9. Naomi Varughese said,

    I’m sorry. I am a highschool girl, and would very much appreciate if someone explained what qatarization actually is. I’m very sorry, but I read through your blog and conudn’t quite catch on. This is also a very beautifully worded blog. Thank you!

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