Workforce localization in the UAE: Recruitment and selection challenges and practices in private and public organizations
Tennessee State University College of Business
School of Business and Law
Workforce localization (WL) has become an issue of increasing importance in the Arab Gulf region, a key emerging market, where, in many cases, local citizens are the minority in terms of population, and compete with high numbers of expatriate employees for jobs and positions. The purposes of this paper are to empirically explore recruitment and selection (R&S) challenges and practices related to WL in the UAE, and to compare and contrast these between private and public sector organizations. This paper adopts a qualitative, inductive methodology. Data were collected using semi-structured interviews with HR/Localization managers in five private (PVO) and six public organizations (PSO) in the UAE, in different industrial sectors. Data were analyzed using NVivo 10 software. First, we found that both PVOs and PSOs face six common challenges related to the R&S of local candidates: 1) the lack of relevant education, skills and experience of Emirati Applicants (EA), 2) their high compensation expectations, 3) their lack of business, industry and career awareness, 4) competition from other employers, 5) some sector- and job-person fit considerations and 6) resistance from expatriates. Second, we found that both PVOs and PSOs have dedicated recruitment methods to attract EAs. Both PVOs and PSOs developed and communicated employee value propositions for EAs, used proactive, targeted, diversified internal and external recruitment methods, and evaluated the effectiveness of their recruitment practices, using established quantitative and qualitative measures. We found some differences between PVOs and PSOs: PSOs tended to reserve specific positions for local employees, used more targeted external recruitment methods and more numerous effectiveness evaluation measures than PVOs. Third, at the selection stage, we found that all organizations reviewed their job descriptions and selection processes to avoid any discriminatory items, most of them organized inclusive, culturally trained staffing committees. Most of the PSOs intensively modified their selection processes (e.g. using modified screening, selection criteria and standards, and selection steps) to facilitate WL, whereas PVOs only modified experience requirements for EAs. Both PVOs and PSOs used similar testing, interviewing processes and effectiveness evaluation measures, although PSOs generally utilized a greater range and number. While our findings on R&S practices showed similarities between PVOs and PSOs, they also highlighted a number of differences. This paper contributes to expanding the scope of understanding of the staffing processes in a non-Western context, adding to the body of empirical literature on localization, R&S, and public sector HRM in the Arab Middle East and Gulf countries. Implications for further research, practitioners and policy makers involved in WL are discussed.