The UAE and others want to create jobs for their citizens, but with limited talent to recruit from, achieving targets is not easy
Encouraging nationals to enter the aviation and aerospace professions is a priority for Gulf governments as they strive to diversify their economies and create high-value careers for their citizens, and nowhere more so than in the fast-expanding United Arab Emirates.
There is a myth that every Emirati leaves college into a BMW 7 Series and a fast-tracked executive job with an oil company or bank. True, many local families need not worry about their children's prospects, but unemployment does exist in the UAE, particularly in some of the small emirates and among the Bedouin peoples living outside the big cities.
However, lack of local skills and incentives, and the fact that industry expansion has outpaced supply of home-grown talent has made it hard for employers to meet targets for employing nationals set by ministers.
Several big employers including Emirates and Etihad have introduced cadet programmes for pilots and engineers. Seventeen trainees - including two women - recently joined Etihad's technical engineering development programme, where they will spend most of their two-year course at the Aviation Australia training centre in Brisbane, before returning to work at the airline's new line maintenance facility at Abu Dhabi airport.
Last May, 12 young Emiratis became the first intake on Eithad's cadet pilot scheme: 48 will go through the programme in the first year, including the airline's first two female pilots. After a foundation course, students spend 18 months learning flying skills at the Horizon Flight Academy at Al Ain before joining the airline as second officers under supervision.
Emirates runs programmes for Emiratis who want to become pilots or engineers, or work in professions such as finance, flight ops and IT. "We've had a department within human resources for 15 years to target nationals," says Abdulaziz Al Ali, executive vice president human resources. "Last year we recruited 500 and we are looking for more this year. We create tailor-made programmes for school-leavers. There is an obligation on us to help the community and what we are doing is backed by His Highness [Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Dubai's ruler], even though it is expensive for us to do, of course."
Cadet pilots and engineers train in Australia, although there is a possibility ab initio training may move to the UAE as more establishments - including Horizon Flight Academy and Dubai Aerospace Enterprise's DAE University - establish schools.
It seems unlikely the "emiratisation" of the UAE's aviation industry will shut off demand for expatriates any time soon. "We could not sustain our growth by simply recruiting and training nationals. There are not enough qualified Emiratis," says Richard Hill, executive vice-president operations at Etihad.
Abdulaziz Al Ali agrees: "There are challenges to nationalise, but because of our growth we will be able to accommodate both expats and nationals."