Muscat: The Omanisation process will never work to its full potential unless the government starts to take a closer look at the top 60 private companies in the country.
These top 60 companies in the Sultanate employ nearly 550,000 workers — accounting for about 45 per cent of the total workforce in the private sector. By December 2013, the Ministry of Manpower had registered about 1.25 million foreign workers employed in the private companies against only 182,000 Omanis. This statistics does not include the 224,000 domestic workers employed in private homes.
These top companies are awarded an average OMR3 billion a year worth of government contracts as well as various subsidies ranging from training to paying lower power charges, according to tender statistics and official records. It was both surprising and shocking to hear at a recent business seminar, an Omani official defending the slow process of Omanisation, and attributing it to "the reluctance of young Omanis to work hard because they are used to an opulent lifestyle."
Some 45,000 graduates are expected this summer to emerge from universities, colleges and vocational training centres. The government will be forced to employ most of them because the private sector sees them "not equipped for the required skills" or they are just deemed pure "lazy" without even being given a chance to prove themselves.
If they talk about maintaining high skills in the private sector, how come we drive on bumpy roads, have expensive bridges cracking up, still suffer from frequent electricity blackouts, walk in the dirty streets, some overflowing sewer water? It is common knowledge that such sloppiness is because of government contractors who employ expatriates to maintain these services.
It is interesting to note that the private companies, dominated by the expatriates, complain that our graduates are not taught the right skills to land them jobs in the private sector.
The Omani job planners nod their heads in agreement overlooking the simple fact that over 80 per cent of our higher education teachers are expatriates. This means that our graduates are taught the wrong professional skills by expatriates and rejected by expatriates for having the wrong skills when they look for jobs.
Let me give you an example of the financial jobs. The majority of the senior managers' post in auditing, accountancy, retail and credit are not occupied by Omanis. There is a reluctance in grooming young Omanis for these senior job takeovers.
They get frustrated at the lower rungs and end up changing jobs frequently and eventually take up government jobs.
A similar scenario exists in the Information Technology (IT) and engineering jobs. In the construction, consulting, energy and contracting companies, decisions to employ graduates rest heavily on the heads of the departments, most of whom are expatriates who have been occupying these positions for years — some even for several decades. If they are challenged, they would readily blame the Human Resources managers — who, by law, must be Omanis — for rejecting fellow nationals.
The reality is that the Omani HR managers are expected to follow tough norms about how to fill up these available positions with local candidates.
Either the National Omanisation Committee is not fully committed or the task is simply too big for them. There is also a question of competence among their ranks. To stop the Omanisation process remaining a casualty and a subject for mere lip service, officials must scrutinise the employment policies of the top companies. They should also rigorously monitor the situation on a regular basis and thoroughly investigate why many senior positions have not been Omanised yet.
Oman holds a unique position of being the first Gulf state to start the job nationalisation drive in 1985. However, nearly three decades later, we are still struggling to make it meaningful.
The Omanisation Committee should not feel intimidated to look at the Ministry of Manpower's employment clearance system to make sure large companies do not get special treatment when they apply for visas. They should also raise questions as to why these corporate heavyweights very easily get employment visas for almost any number of foreign workers they need. If they find the Omani-expatriate ratio being violated, the Omanisation Committee must take legal action against the individuals who allow it to happen.
We don't want to continue to camouflage the obvious failings of the Omanisation process for another 30 years just to put more money into the pockets of a few individuals.