Unemployment levels in the UAE are still at safe levels even though the percentage rate among nationals is high, economists told Al-Shorfa.
A report issued by the UAE's National Bureau of Statistics on June 5th showed that unemployment among nationals reached 20.8% in 2011 and 3.2% among expatriates. The overall unemployment rate in the country, for both nationals and expatriates, was 4.6%.
Economists say a cultural change among nationals could lead to a decline in unemployment since most do not accept low-level jobs.
"The overall unemployment rate in the UAE is still at an economically safe level," said Jamal Zarrouk, a senior economist at the Arab Monetary Fund. "The unemployment rate among nationals is normal since they do not accept all types of employment and focus instead on public sector or administrative jobs."
"About 90% of UAE nationals only want government jobs, which is not a healthy [disposition]," he told Al-Shorfa. "The government's task is not to find jobs [for the unemployed] but rather help the economy create jobs."
Zarrouk underscored the need for a cultural change among nationals because the government cannot employ every national seeking work in its administrative agencies.
The UAE economy is developed and capable of creating jobs, Zarrouk said, especially since the government supports private sector businesses and helps citizens start small and medium enterprises (SMEs). About 94% of companies in the UAE fall under the SME category, he said.
Abdul Baset al-Janahi, CEO of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Establishment for Young Business Leaders in Dubai, said small businesses play a key role in reducing unemployment but are limited in scope.
"[Small businesses] provide work for the owners only, not the employees," he said.
However, the private sector "plays a key role in tackling unemployment through job creation, and we help SMEs grow to absorb labour", he said.
Economist Najeeb al-Shamsi said there is a need for remedying the unemployment problem as soon as possible.
"The unemployment problem in the UAE is multi-faceted but it needs long-term solutions," he told Al-Shorfa. "International economists are amazed when they learn that unemployment does exist in the Gulf despite its strong economy that is supported by oil revenues."
UAE unemployment data confirms the country is facing a problem that has negative implications for the economy, al-Shamsi said.
"There is masked unemployment in the UAE and remedies need to be implemented before it gets worse," he said.
A recent report published by consulting firm Booz & Company said that during the next decade the Arab world needs to create up to 75 million jobs, a 40% increase over the current level, just to keep pace with the rapid population growth of Arab youth who will be entering the workforce.
"The six Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) countries have the highest unemployment rates among young people in the world, reaching 40% in some age groups," the report said.
"GCC governments tried to alleviate the unemployment crisis that occurred in recent years by adopting two major initiatives: setting quotas for the hiring of nationals and contributing to the cost of hiring them," Samer Bohsali, a partner with Booz & Company, said in a press statement. "While these policies have achieved some success, they did not meet their desired objectives."