To sustain the expansion of the local economy it may need a policy rethink to look at a perfect balance between Omani and expatriate workforces. It is understandable that Oman needs job security for Omanis and becomes more self-sufficient. It is also understandable that the small number of Omani workforce in the private sector against the large foreign workforce presents a unique challenge. There is no such problem in the public sector where Omanis vastly outnumber foreign workers. For the academics, the ongoing debate now is to satisfy the national need to justify the job security for nationals.
However, the question raised by many manpower experts is how to plan for a future in a very predictable situation. In other words, how can Oman prepare and ensure the future requirements in its labour needs? Considering that Oman has a very young population, it would take a few decades for the nationals to take over all the jobs from foreign workers. It remains that currently, Oman still needs expatriates in many positions, especially in the retail sectors. There is no doubt, as we celebrate the 48th year of the Renaissance, the expatriates have been the strength of the country for many years and that has been the economic reality for nearly 50 years.
This demographic problem has existed for half a century and obviously it cannot be solved in just a few years. Again it is understandable that the unemployment among Omani graduates is mounting, but by simply getting rid all expatriates in a rush would not be a solution the private sector is looking for. The economy depends on a balance of both workforces. However, that does not mean Oman should not replace expatriates. A careful phasing out plan is needed and it may take time.
The reason why the public sector has done it successfully is because the government has mainly subsidised the jobs from its own expenses. The private sector cannot do the same. It is a matter of costs and profitability. It may not sound patriotic but in the end the private sector needs experts. Not all these vacancies can be filled by Omanis. At the latest count, over 170,000 retail jobs are occupied by expatriates. These jobs do not need high qualifications and any school leaver could do them. However, there is not enough number of Omanis who are willing to do them. Employers in the private sector would testify to that.
Young Omanis, even school dropouts want a white collar job. Again the latest count in the private sector shows that over a third of all jobs in the private sector are either in the white collar jobs or in the retail. That’s a big number in any workforce. If only a few Omanis are willing to do them, then it might be difficult to get expatriates replaced, since most of the positions are occupied by foreign workers. The other challenge is getting Omanis to do some of the technical jobs such as in electricity, mechanical, masonry, plumbing and computer networking. Statistics show that in the last 15 years, the government helped train over 65,000 Omanis in technical jobs and in the retail.
If you look at the problem at its root, it is exactly not the fault of the ministry, nor its job to convince Omani nationals to occupy these positions. The facts over the years remain that the national workforce is equipped to do these jobs but are reluctant to do it. To go back to create the balance between the national workforce and the existing foreign manpower, it has become more a challenge of mental attitude rather than ability.
The question we should ask is the action justified of restricting or banning certain jobs from expatriates and reserve them for Omanis? It might not be as straight forward as it seems.
SALEH AL SHAIBANY