One of the biggest challenges that any society faces is how individuals joining its workforce make career decisions. The choices that people make not only affect their lives for eight hours a day, 50 weeks a year; this decision has far-reaching ramifications and is likely to influence where people live, who their friends are, who they marry, how much money they generate, and many other aspects of their lives. So, how do individuals make career choices? Do they actually make such decisions consciously and deliberately or are there other forces at play? How does all this affect a country such as the Emirates, where Emiratisation is a national strategic priority?
Findings from research conducted by Dr. John Krumboltz, who was a professor of education at Stanford University, were released in 1991 and demonstrate that one of society’s biggest mistaken assumption is that “career decisions happen naturally.” Apparently not necessarily so, and quoting the released document, “Many young people never make a career decision … they simply follow a path of least resistance. Summer jobs become permanent ones; family or friends pressure young people toward options that avoid temporary unemployment.”
The path of least resistance takes many shapes and forms from one culture to another, from one community to another, and from one country to the next. Those who grew up in the Levant region remember the times when, as children, they often heard their parents extol the virtues of becoming a doctor, lawyer, or an engineer, and nothing else. Here in the GCC, the path of least resistance perhaps points in the direction of financial services, local government entities, and quasi-government entities. Alternatively, and as one young Emirati gentleman once told me, it may force individuals to look for certain terms (financial, working hours, and other benefits) that dictate choices and push job seekers to pursue high-prestige positions. In this situation, being a member of a professional community, compensation levels, or speed of growth become the determining factors – instead of a genuine desire and aptitude for the job.
The subject of Emiratis in the ranks of the communications industry is a good case in point: it is a consequence of ‘occupationism’ described by Dr. Krumboltz as “a form of discrimination he finds just as bad as sexism, racism, or ageism…where people are often dissuaded from going into occupations in which they could be quite successful and happy”. This is because they may not have the same high level of prestige as other jobs, and because pursuing them may not enable them to generate income, perhaps get married early enough, or fit within the cultural definitions expected of them by society.
If ‘occupationism’ is the culprit behind Emiratis’ lack of interest in the creative and communications industry, then it has contributed to the absence of nationals in a key strategic industry for the UAE. This is unfortunate as the country needs and should be able to rely on its own youth to play a role that no other segment of society is better suited to play. More importantly, the UAE’s youth is an important part of the future of the industry, and they will, with time, play an increasingly bigger role as businesses demand it, qualification increases, and the ecosystem evolves. The communications industry is a key strategic sector for the Emirates and one that begs for attention and interest. It is also a sector that should be pursued with more conviction not only because of its strategic importance to the economy, but also because of its ability to absorb job seekers within the private sector.
It has been some time since the initial conversation was sparked in an attempt to understand who is best suited to brand Emirati culture and why we do not see Emiratis in the creative workforce. The biggest challenge back then was that, if there was any interest on the part of Emirati youth to participate in this industry, it was, most probably, small and, as a result, didn’t register anywhere. Our industry could not attract Emirati talent, local universities did not have the programs in place for such a field of practice, and creative interest was dominated by systemic inertia. Young Emiratis’ interest deficit was matched by industry indifference to what seemed to be a nonissue back then. Thankfully, that was then.
Today, there is an encouraging stirring that signals the beginning of a movement. Its sources and precursors remain unclear, and they may be a few, several, many or simply one: evolution. Irrespective, it gives us reason to be optimistic and a new direction to move in. We see signs of interest coupled with nascent activity. Did it come from Emiratis’ exposure to social media and their curiosity towards an industry? Is inspiration at work here? Are regional events making people from all walks of life and of all ages question things around them? Are these events leading them to take their futures into their own hands? Is local academia responding to a need? Is national oversight pushing the door of private sector participation and entrepreneurialism wide open? The answer may reside in one or all of the above. The bottom line, however, is that the journey seems to have commenced.
Like most starts, this one, on the surface, seems unhurried. One academic institution, The Higher Colleges of Technology, is leading the way and helping to shape the next generation of Emirati advertising talent. Leo Burnett is about to play host to seven wonderful young Emirati men, whose interests lie in the area of creativity and whose collective passion has, so far, driven them to, at least academically, explore the domain of communications in all its facets. And, this is just the first crop of Emiratis set to walk the halls and floors of the Leo Burnett agency in Dubai to begin their apprenticeships. The experience will see them contribute to ideas and absorb the powerful culture of communications and creativity from a globally-renowned and established organization.
Where this journey will lead remains to be seen but it is nothing short of exciting and, I hope I would be forgiven in thinking, also transformative. At this moment in time, I am reminded of my initial reaction when Dubai Internet City (DIC) was first set up. When I first visited DIC after its launch, I saw a lovely arch and a welcoming roundabout, and thought to myself, ‘Surely there must be more to this project!’ Indeed there was, and it all unfolded before my eyes over the years. The arch and the roundabout were just the beginning of something much, much bigger.
Today marks first steps, a beginning, and an end. We are seeing academia and industry players collaborate to equip young Emiratis with the tools needed to participate in the UAE’s communications industry. We are also seeing the beginning of action and the transition from planning to executing – clearly, there will be various stages of refinement and improvement before we have a steady flow of young talent coming into our industry. Today also marks the end of the time when the communications industry ranked low in the list of priorities of young Emiratis.
So, independently of how soon-to-be Emirati graduates make their respective career decisions, the time has come for them to consciously consider a career in the creative communications sector. Why? Because it has profound impacts at the individual level, industry-wise, and on the UAE as a whole. The stars have perfectly aligned to ensure that high-prestige jobs no longer blind young Emiratis’ choices and ‘occupationism’ no longer hinders their path. The creative communications industry is calling Emirati youth. Pray that they heed the call, and pray that Emirati society will support them in this journey, for it is in their interest to do so.