SERIES: Brookings Doha Center Publications | No. 9 of 34 « Previous | Next »

Brookings Doha Center

Young, Educated and Dependent on the Public Sector: Meeting Graduates' Aspirations and Diversifying Employment in Qatar and the UAE

Qatar and the United Arab Emirates – two rentier states – have made credible attempts to reduce the size of their public sectors and promote private sector employment and entrepreneurship. Both countries are aware that they cannot rely on high oil and gas revenues and instead need to diversify their labor markets and economies. Yet despite efforts to reform their education systems, develop their workforces and promote private sector growth, both countries still have extremely high levels of public sector employment.

Qatar and the United Arab Emirates – two rentier states – have made credible attempts to reduce the size of their public sectors and promote private sector employment and entrepreneurship. Both countries are aware that they cannot rely on high oil and gas revenues and instead need to diversify their labor markets and economies. Yet despite efforts to reform their education systems, develop their workforces and promote private sector growth, both countries still have extremely high levels of public sector employment.

The urgency and timeliness of economic diversification initiatives is all the greater given the significant youth bulge in Qatar and the UAE. Too often, however, efforts to address the problems of high public sector employment are conducted in isolation of the career aspirations and preferences of young people themselves. If the governments of Qatar and the UAE are to diversify their employment, they must address the variety of financial, social and cultural influences that often dictate the job choices of their youth.

The study provides an analysis of the career attitudes and motivations of university students and recent graduates in Qatar and the UAE. In so doing, it aims to identify the range of obstacles that exist in the transition between education and employment. In addition to interviews and discussion groups with young Qataris and Emiratis, key public and private sector stakeholders and NGOs were also consulted. Through qualitative analysis, the paper identifies key policies that could help support sustainable labor market diversification.

The paper finds that policies must address the limitations of labor markets and the effects these limitations have on the employment choices of young people. Otherwise, the high salary differentials between public and private sector employment and limited awareness of entrepreneurship support mean that the status quo of high public sector employment is likely to persist. There is also, however, a need to reform the public sector itself. Creating more state owned enterprises, which comply with market oriented, performance-based management rules, while encouraging mobility between the public and private sectors will be crucial. Other measures include introducing greater parity between public and private sector pay, increasing young peoples’ employability and soft skills levels, and removing barriers to business start-up and female employment.

The study concludes that a new strategic framework should be introduced to facilitate young people’s transition from education to employment. This framework should go beyond the objectives of nationalization targets, and address barriers such as salary level and a lack of training, while also seeking to enhance productivity, mobility, and innovation in the workforce. Crucially, it should also ensure that all policies and programs include systems of monitoring and evaluation – which have often been absent in the past.

SERIES: Brookings Doha Center Publications | No. 9