Of private sector fear and prejudice: The case of young citizens in an oil-rich Arabian Gulf economy

Mohammed A. Al-Waqfi, Ingo Forstenlechner

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    46 Citations (Scopus)


    Purpose: The uncompromising preference of citizens for public sector employment throughout the Middle East is not new. However, with the recent saturation of the public sector job market and demographic pressures, it has grown to become a problem of unpredictable economic and social consequences. This paper aims to explore the factors determining career choice behaviour and the underlying career expectations and perceptions of young citizens in one Middle Eastern country, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where the preference for public sector employment is not only very strong, but is also perceived as increasingly problematic. Design/methodology/approach: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with a total of 60 UAE citizens in the age group of 18-23. Findings: The authors explore and discuss cognitive, social, and institutional factors that influence the job-seeking behaviour of young Emiratis and lead to negative attitudes towards the private sector. They further suggest potential causes of the very low private sector employment levels among UAE citizens and discuss their implications for policy makers. The authors argue for two main approaches: first, a focus on training and orientation of young citizens to enable them to confidently pursue job opportunities in the private sector. This may also include ways for providing young UAE citizens with private sector exposure, as 98 per cent of the national workforce is currently working in the public sector and a lot of what young UAE citizens think they know about the private sector is not founded in reality. Second, interventions to address structural and institutional challenges hindering employment of citizens including gaps in employment conditions and remuneration levels for citizens between the public and private employment sectors. Originality/value: While much previous research in this field has focused on the perceptions of employers, this is the first paper to actually explore the perceptions of those at the centre of the discussion - young UAE citizens themselves.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)609-629
    Number of pages21
    JournalPersonnel Review
    Issue number5
    Publication statusPublished - Jul 2012


    • Emiratization
    • Jobseekers
    • Localization
    • Middle East
    • Transitional economy
    • United Arab Emirates
    • Young UAE citizens

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Applied Psychology
    • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management


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