Jump in jobs for Omanis as expatriate numbers fall
December 4, 2018 | 9:22 PM
by Times News Service
Private sector should be praised for rise in hiring of citizens, say Shashwar Al Balushi

Muscat: The manufacturing, engineering, industrial, financial, mining and construction sectors in Oman have seen the maximum number of expats leave to make way for locals within the workforce, leading to a decrease in Omani unemployment numbers.

According to data from the National Centre for Statistics and Information, the unemployment rate for Omanis between the ages of 25 and 29 dropped by 13.6 per cent over the last month, by 11 per cent for those between 30 and 34 years of age, and by 7.1 per cent for locals from 35 to 39 years of age, as companies replace

expats with the local workforce.

Between October 2017 and 2018, the number of expats in the labour force decreased by 3.4 per cent and currently stands at 1,739,473, down from 1,795,689 in December 2017. The biggest drop was in the construction sector, which stood at 650,983 at the end of December 2016, and decreased by 13.69 per cent to 572,596 in October 2018.

The manufacturing (5.2 per cent from 219,876 to 208,944), engineering (6.8 per cent from 131,867 to 123,400), industrial (5.9 per cent from 131,867 to 124,451), mining (6.47 per cent from 19,138 to 17,974), agriculture (1.4 per cent from 94,207 to 92,831) and finance (2.1 per cent from 4,113 to 4,025) sectors showed a dip in the number of Omanis replacing expat workers.

“Starting from 25 and above, which is the employment age and when people go looking for work, you can see that the unemployment levels have dropped,” said Shashwar Al Balushi, head of the Labour Labs for the Tanfeedh programme for economic diversification.

“This reflects a good hiring of locals in the market. It is an indication of a positive effort from the private sector to hire Omanis.”

In addition, data showed that the strongest decline in unemployment over the last month had taken place in the Wusta Governorate, where it fell by 25.2 per cent, followed by North Batinah (11.6 per cent), Musandam (8.3 per cent), Muscat (6.6 per cent), and South Batinah Governorates (3.9 per cent).

Al Balushi was quick to point out that the economic expansion under Tanfeedh was currently ongoing in these areas in the fields of industry and manufacturing, energy, transport and logistics, and tourism.

“In the Batinah, Muscat and Wusta Governorates, there are economic activities,” he said.

“In the Batinah Governorate, you have the Khazzan project, you have the Sohar Port and Freezone and you have the industrial area. There is economic activity and that is why unemployment is dropping so sharply. The same is true in Wusta Governorate, where there is so much economic planning as part of Duqm. The places where there is no activity is where the unemployment level will rise.”

Prashant Singh, an academic advisor at Waljat College of Applied Sciences (WCAS), said that the Omanisation drive by the government was leading to more optimism with regard to employment among graduates.

“A couple of years ago, the sentiment was a bit negative, but now that has changed because students see that others are getting jobs,” he said. “The turnaround time has increased. Earlier, people would get jobs within a couple of months, but now, it takes just four or six months to get a job. Many of the students utilise this period for certificate courses and they opt to extend their internships during this time.”

Singh added, “In most academic institutions, students finish their courses in June or July. Companies these days are looking for people with better competencies. Previously, they accepted graduates with ordinary degrees, but these days, they are looking for people with higher qualifications.”

“Students also prefer to go for higher qualifications,” he said. “Earlier, they wanted to just do a diploma, but these days, they also want to get a degree. The cream of the graduates opts for further studies. We have a mandatory internship programme in both our undergraduate and postgraduate programmes where during the summer or winter, students are supposed to spend two months in the industry where they get the necessary experience and then come back and submit a report to us.”

Better qualifications

While some Omanis choose to improve their qualifications, others set up their own businesses.

“When I was at university, I was working in a company as well, and I felt that that sort of routine was not for me, because I wanted to do something different,” said Yumna Al Sharji, founder of Atoms Labs, an engineering lab that provides advice and equipment to engineering students. “I felt that setting up my own business would be the best way to challenge my mind. We graduated in July, and some of my friends are still searching for jobs, having already completed their training.”

“Among expats, there are mixed sentiments because they are trying to find jobs in sectors that are open,” added Singh. “There is a visa ban across some sectors and this is a right approach, because the government has to prioritise its own people. A few expats choose to go for higher studies, and some join family businesses. Others search for jobs that are open.”

In contrast, the unemployment rate for those aged between 15 and 24 years rose by 26.2 per cent. However, this includes students who attend school and university, making for a very small portion of those who would be actively seeking work.

“Those aged between 15 and 21 are mostly students,” said Al Balushi.

“They are studying, so you cannot calculate unemployment on the basis of people who are studying. This is how I read it. People who are 15 up to 22 cannot be accounted for, because those who are 15 are still in high school.”

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