Drive towards free market needs local, foreign skills

Oman’s drive towards a free market is paying a good dividend as a result of millions of rials in investments over the years that helped to attract skilled workers from abroad and at the same promoting local talent. The private sector wants a free hand to employ both local and foreign workers to expand their growth in a market that is fast growing.
At the moment, company are left with fewer options due to the strict Omanisation drive when it comes to filling a position vacated by an expatriate.
This way, the private sector is left with little room to manoeuvre. The country has a young population and many of these new positions need people with considerable experience.
It may work in the short run by plugging holes in the jobs which expatriates are not allowed to hold but it certainly will have a long-term negative effect on productivity. It will also hamper the Sultanate’s drive to attract foreign investments.
Multi-million dollar international projects funded by foreign companies need to be assured of free labour market, and employment restrictions can act as a deterrent.
Free enterprise is not just about breaking down business monopolies but giving the private sector freedom to employ who they want.
The Manpower Ministry must stop sending out signals that it is the birthright of any Omani to have a job.
It is any Omani’s right to receive free education but later, when it comes to the job market, they need to compete like the rest.
The process to replace an expatriate with an Omani is a natural one.
Yes, it is true that some companies do not do enough when it comes to training.
However, instead of imposing a complete ban on employing expatriates in future, the Manpower Ministry must make a deal with the private sector.
The government would continue to issue new employment visas, provided private companies come up with a programme to train nationals to take over jobs in a flexible span of time.
Every new employment visa will have a certain price tag of training a young Omani.
This way, the ministry will have what it wants while companies will be able to fill vacancies with whoever they want.
As it stands now, companies not only find it difficult to recruit international skilled talent when they expand, but also find it almost impossible to sack Omanis who do not perform their duties according to their contractual obligations.
They now face the dilemma of not replacing underperforming staff because of the expatriate replacement restrictions.
Murmurs are growing in the boardrooms with directors worrying that their profitability would be hit because they cannot expand their operations.
They see their wage bills grow because they are forced to recruit a larger number of nationals but they cannot expand due to the fact their recruitment process is severely limited.
That is not all. A growing number of Omani business people are investing heavily in property development.
According to the Ministry of Housing records, planning permissions for new commercial buildings nationwide have increased by an average of 22 per cent per annum in the last five years.
Who is going to stay in these new flats if expatriate recruitment is severely restricted? Furthermore, a rapid growth in property development comes with new business outlets. Do we have enough Omani shopkeepers or salespeople? Unrented accommodations and showrooms is a sign of business stagnation.
It has not reached that stage yet but the situation is headed in that direction. A balanced approach in recruitment strategy is needed to satisfy the needs of the national economy.
There is no denying that business is growing rapidly in Oman but it will be imprudent if we think the growth will be sustained by restricting the recruitment of expatriates.