This year’s celebrations of “Hag Al-Laila” raise awareness of yet another UAE, and GCC, tradition that remains largely unknown for a huge swathe of the population hosted in the Gulf. Appropriately, some of the media have started their report with the phrase “To mark… and raise awareness,” which is fitting coverage of an event that, while part of the national fabric, remains contained within that fabric and has not gained the participation of all.
Marking tradition is a wonderful way for a nation to keep its heritage alive and to pass its social DNA on to the generations to come. Raising awareness and inviting participation of the citizenry increases a nation’s sense of identity, creates cohesion, and ensures the existence of collective milestones to which all can look forward. In this respect it is wonderful to see corporate UAE participate in, support and contribute to such an event because it widens the circle of participation.
Hag Al-Laila is a wonderful contributor to the journey of Emiratisation; a journey rightly initiated by the local authorities and whose success depends on the combined interest, initiative and actions of both the nationals and corporate UAE. For it to work there needs to be a genuine and sincere interest on the part of both; there needs to be communication between the two, and there needs to be engagement and participation.
Specifically in the domain of creative communication and advertising, this journey has been rather slow – though not for lack of will on the side of the authorities, the practitioners within the communication field, or that of academia. The biggest obstacle so far has been the existing interest deficit on the part of the Emirati youth. As long as Emirati students and youth do not hunger to enrol, participate and excel in the field of creative communication out of sheer desire and drive – and not because of early material gain, then this journey will take even longer than anyone can imagine. Until such a point in time we are at an impasse.
There are encouraging signs though. Recently, the Applied Communications Division, Higher Colleges of Technology, created an Industry Advisory Committee, with the purpose to advise the faculty concerning the development, maintenance and stakeholder acceptance of its programmes. The ultimate objective is to ensure its graduates are workplace ready. This is a wonderful initiative because it creates a viable three-legged stool, bringing students, faculty and industry together. Reassuringly, the students are Emirati, who have joined a broad section of communication programmes by desire and passion – not because they have to, or because of the pressure to get an education and obtain a degree.
This is a wonderful start for all, and this is the kind of initiative that can potentially create multiple discontinuities. At a very basic level, this initiative will help create a new employment stream for Emirati youth. When this happens a branch of the Emiratisation programme will have taken hold, and will have developed organically, though not necessarily through government fiat – sound and visionary as this fiat would have been.
Academically, such a development signals the effectiveness of a programme and curriculum, because it would be succeeding in producing the right talent for an economy that craves it and that is prepared to absorb it. This is similar to a school of medicine or architecture and engineering, whose graduates help serve the needs of the local communities from which they emerge and which they will end up servicing. The creation of such a stream will help further refine the programme, and this will ensure a steady stream of talent that is better prepared not only to hit the ground running in the workplace, but also start contributing early on.
The field of marketing communications will be an obvious winner because, finally, its workforce will be more representative of the environment in which it operates as the talent imbalance gets redressed. It will ultimately reach a stage where marketing communications for Emiratis becomes an organic practice, that is no longer outsourced or reliant upon a foreign element for its creation. This is when it becomes natural, authentic, representative and, certainly, much more relevant and effective.
Clearly, there are more winners than have so far been cited in this article. There is a strategic gain for the UAE as a new industry sector receives Emirati talent, and as such talent starts ascending the ladder of skill, expertise and management. Equally, this is a triumph for the private sector, which will become richer and more diversified with a wider talent representation. There is also a victory for creativity and economic development when Emirati youth start contributing through yet another industry stream.
If the communications industry has, so far, been caught in a vicious circle propagated by an interest deficit, we stand on the brink of a virtuous cycle. Obviously, the proof is ultimately in the pudding, but we have a lot to look forward to from this development. And when this happens, we are likely to start hearing more about events like “Hag Al-Laila”, to celebrate more together, and to learn a lot more.
The Higher Colleges of Technology’s initiative is a great first step in this journey. They have reached out to the communication industry with clarity and purpose. Now, it is up to us as communication practitioners to capitalise on this development, and to open up the well for Emiratis to drink from.