Muscat: The quality and availability of a skilled and competent workforce is a prerequisite for any nation’s economic development and growth. With the rise of global organisations and increasing mobility, many countries within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and East Asia have taken advantage of the availability of large expatriate workforces. However, as populations grow and economies expand, integrating the local population into the workforce has become a critical issue in order to achieve self-reliance and reduce the high domestic unemployment rate.
The Omanisation initiative was started in 1988 under the directive of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said. During the early 1970’s, the Sultanate continued to import overseas workers (predominantly from the Indian sub-continent region) to align with Oman’s ambitious development plans. However, Oman has enjoyed socio-economic success over the past two decades by ensuring that localisation initiatives are strictly monitored and adhered to—especially within the private sector.
Omanisation is a national objective and requires support from all ministry and government authorities. This necessitates a holistic and integrated approach, coordinating efforts between the government, employers and employees, to facilitate constructive dialogue and foster partnerships. Such efforts are supported by human resource development policies and strategies that are conducive to economic development and growth, such as reducing the number of free trade zones.
The Ministry of Manpower has supported Omanisation by curbing visa issuance for expatriate workers. The latest initiative—extending the ban on certain categories of visas —has led to a major increase in Omani employment in the private sector. The Ministry of Social Affairs, Labour and Vocational Training has also implemented a number of Omanisation-related policies and programmes. For instance a recent decree by the Ministry of Manpower on the issuance of a "green/amber/red flag" was promoted to acknowledge private-sector companies which have achieved the defined levels of Omanisation and training of national cadre. The Social Insurance Law (PASI), covering all Omanis working in the private sector, was another policy implemented towards providing job security for nationals.
From a private sector employer’s perspective, the entity must safeguard business interests by employing professionals equipped with appropriate/relevant technical skills and a progressive mentality. Social institutions are expected to foster and encourage young Omanis to develop, promote and nurture a positive attitude towards work, be it in the public or private sector.
Education is also a key driver in achieving Oman’s localisation objectives. The decision to expand higher education institutions through privatisation programs and to increase student enrollment in the public post-secondary institutes boosted the graduation rate of Omani youth in various areas of specialization.
So far, employment of Omani citizens has been more successful in the public sector than in the private sector. In addition, only some industries in the private sector have made progress in this area, with the construction, wholesale and retail, and manufacturing industries doing particularly well . Analysis of the current manpower trends suggests that the missing link in the successful realization of Omanisation in the private sector is more holistic and integrated coordination and cooperation between the government, the private sector employers and the employees. The harmonised efforts of the Ministry of Manpower and the rest of the public sector have allowed the country to make significant progress towards its goals. Staying their course will likely mean further progress in a positive direction.
* The author works for KPMG in Oman