For decades governments across the Middle East have encouraged initiatives designed to promote the recruitment of nationals to desirable job roles in the private sectors. For Saudi Arabia and the UAE, these initiatives have been mildly successful if slow going. In Saudi Arabia several sectors, notably finance, mining, and education, have achieved parity, with headcounts of 50% or more Saudi nationals and the rate across the private sector as a whole is increasing. Certain sectors, such as finance, have experienced success at exceptional rates. In Q3 2022 it was reported that capital market institutions reached a rate of 77% ‘Saudization’ overall, and some companies maintain rates of 95-100% Saudi nationals employed.

Likewise, the UAE has launched several new incentives designed to empower Emiratis in the workforce with the stated aim of ensuring all private sector employers in the UAE should have a workforce that is at least 10% Emirati by 2025. A big jump from previous requirements of 2%. Nor are the UAE and KSA alone. Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain and many other Middle Eastern states have percentage targets of national employees for businesses operating there.

For many employers however nationalization efforts can present a real struggle when it comes to attracting and retaining talent. The local talent pool can be small or, in the case of KSA, large but relatively under skilled, niche skills are in high demand and competition for national employees with the right expertise is fierce. Forcing employers to look abroad for the skills they need.

Diversity and national talent quotas

Nationalization targets can also affect wider diversity drives for employers. Women are highly sought after in diversity drives in the Middle East. PWC’s report ‘Women in Work:

Insights from Middle East and North Africa’ found that there is evidence ‘the gender-equality agenda is progressing despite challenges including lack of support after a career break, deep-seated social norms, and gender stereotypes and bias.’ The same report found that 66% of women working across MENA supported government targets for gender diversity in the private sector.

Nevertheless, the pool of skilled female talent in the Middle East is small. In Saudi Arabia, women make up just 31% of the overall labour force and it can be difficult for foreign women to be awarded work visas. This can make it difficult for employers to meet nationality percentages in the workforce who also want to hire diversely to meet internal ED&I targets.


How to develop national talent pipelines that support diverse hiring

For employers who want to develop robust national talent pipelines and meet inclusive hiring targets, MCG Talent can help. We are often tasked by businesses to help them attract new local talent in the Middle East and retain crucial skills, and to help organisations source expat labour in the face of increased competition.


1. Develop an attractive Employee Value Proposition (EVP)

Businesses are increasingly aware of the importance of their employer brand when it comes to developing a talent pipeline that attracts and retains critical skills and expertise. A key part of your brand as an employer is the EVP. Your EVP is everything that you offer a potential employee in exchange for their skills and effort beyond salary and compensation.

That means your EVP needs to showcase your company beliefs, mission and culture. The core values of your business. For example, if a core business value is work-life balance you may choose to build flexibility and remote working into your EVP. By aligning your EVP with your core business values you will attract and retain employees who share those values and create a cohesive working environment.


2. Offer better benefits to encourage retention

Given the competition for local talent many young professionals choose to move positions on average every 2-3 years. As opportunities increase but talent pools remain static this frequency may likely increase as employers try to tempt talent with higher salaries.

But by offering better all-round benefits such as greater autonomy, flexible ways of working and attractive, clearly outlined career paths, employers can encourage professionals to stick with their organisation for the long-term. Reducing the reliance on foreign nationals, lowering recruitment costs, and strengthening employee morale. 

Better benefits can also help you hire more diversely. Improving your package of benefits around flexible working, healthcare and family care can support employees from many different backgrounds and make it easier to attract and retain diverse talent.


3. Do not ignore the power of professional development

Hiring for potential is a fantastic strategy to help you meet nationalization targets and develop crucial skills that may not be readily available in the current labour market. Identifying and hiring nationals who are ambitious and who will benefit from rigorous training can help combat skills gaps, ensure best practice, and reduce hiring costs.

Training opportunities can also drive retention so its important to ensure that the training and development you offer is well thought out and globally recognised.


4. Use mentorship schemes to funnel nationals into leadership roles

Much has been done by governments in the Middle East to encourage nationals into studying sought-after skills and this has led to an increase of nationals entering the workforce at junior level. However more needs to be done to support nationals into senior roles especially in multinational businesses.

This is especially true for women. For example, while 38% of STEM graduates in KSA are women only 3% of leaders in the region are female, trailing the global average of 7%. Mentorship can be a valuable tool to help prepare nationals for leadership and encourage them to aim high. Mentorship schemes can be particularly helpful for women returning to work after a career break, giving them the support and performance management tools to succeed. 

Attract and retain exceptional talent across the Middle East and Asia with MCG Talent

MCG Talent is experienced in ensuring businesses access critical skills and experience and can meet the challenges of finding national talent. Our experience of the market, industry knowledge and commitment to your goals can help you find the best people for your organisation, whilst representing your brand with integrity and respect.

Thanks to offices in Dubai, Hong Kong and Singapore, and soon to open in Riyadh, we offer unique insight into the trends shaping recruitment in the region and can provide tailored advice and services that make sure your business can access the talent and skills you need.

Contact MCG Talent and connect with a consultant today!

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