Talent Management in the United Arab Emirates

Subject: Management
Pages: 16
Words: 4429
Reading time:
16 min
Study level: PhD


Talent management is an essential component for enhancing the success of organizations in the private and public sectors. For discussion of this paper, talent management is defined as a “critical process that ensures that organizations have the quantity and quality of people in place to meet their current and future business priorities” (Ruppe 2006, p.39). The procedure referred here incorporates all the essential elements of employees including performance administration, assortment, progression, and maturity. Therefore, talent management covers “everything that is done to recruit, retain, develop, reward, and make people perform as well as strategic workforce planning” (Handfield-Jones, Michaels & Axelrod 2001, p.54). Owing to the above signs of talent management in aiding an organization to become competitive, it sounds imperative to question the extent to which various nations and organizations focus on building and managing the talent of their most beneficial resources for yielding success: employees. The purpose of this research paper is aligned congruently with the concerns of the aforementioned question. The paper presents the results and discussion of the extent to which nations and organizations appreciate and or strategically focus on building and managing talents of their people in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).


The main purpose of the current paper is to present results, discussion, and interpretation of a study conducted in the UAE to determine the value that the UAE places on talent management. The result culminates from three interviews conducted in the UAE. The first interview was done with Mr. Adel Al Falasi from the Prime Minister Office of the UAE on December 28, 2012. The second was done with Dr. Hasan Al Alkim, the vice-chancellor at American university of Ra Khaimah in the same year and month. Lastly, the third interview was done with Mr. Nasir Al Shamsi, the General Manager (GM) of TANMIA, The National Human Resource Development and Employment Authority. These interviews were guided by a priory developed Talent Management interview schedule for stakeholders.

Although interviews present the challenge of consumption of immense resources, they were chosen for this research. The justification for making this choice is based on the capacity of the interviews to allow the interviewer to follow up and probe questions, get impressions, and opinions coupled with the ability to make the interviewer control the quality of the anticipated result. Quality is enhanced by redirecting the interviewee to the subject matter of the research appropriately. Talent management interview schedule for stakeholders was used to act as a means of sharing experiences and subjective views of the interviewees on talent management in the UAE. To ensure that the results of the interview cut across what different stakeholders consider as the extent to which the UAE is embracing talent management, the interviewees are drawn from the government, academia, and the human resource sector.


The interview with Mr. Adel Al Falasi from the Prime Minister Office of the UAE makes it clear that no single arm of the UAE government is responsible for building and developing the large pool of talents of people that are available for organizations. This challenge is even amplified by lack of a unified definition of talent management in the UAE. Mr. Adel Al Falasi says that all organizations have the mandate to define talent from the context of its applicability within their organizational structures. This task is reserved for HR departments. However, at the national level, through the national human resource development and employment authority, guidelines for what amounts as talented category of people are provided. Apart from academic qualification in the UAE, considerations such as personal traits, ethics, and the capacity to fit in teamwork contribute to the development of criteria for the classification of talents. From the perspective of Mr. Adel Al Falasi, there is a recurrent confusion of talent potential and talent management in the UAE.

Mr. Adel Al Falasi reveals a number of dominant issues in the field of talent management in the UAE. One of these issues is the reluctance of young emirates’ to venture into entrepreneurship. Private sector is where talents can be incredibly developed through specialization. Therefore, according to Mr. Adel Al Falasi, talent development is more of the province of the private sector, as opposed to the public sector. He reinforces that there are less talented people in the UAE. The ease of employee mobility is also a significant drawback that hinders talent development in the UAE. However, according to Mr. Adel Al Falasi, it is not a phenomenon principally confined to the UAE.

Responding to the query on the sectors in the UAE that suffer from lack of talent, Mr. Adel Al Falasi says that shortage of Emirates’ participation in the private sector remains the main challenge in talent development. This problem is amplified by less specialization of people in technical fields as opposed to administrative functions. He paints a clear picture of why this is the case by informing that the UAE mostly concentrates on the service sector as opposed to manufacturing. With identification of this gap, it intrigues me to question the strategy taken by the UAE to reverse these conditions. Mr. Adel Al Falasi is quick to point out that there is no single strategy being pursued by the UAE as a whole to enhance talent management in the context of the emirates’ 2021 vision. However, several bodies tied within the Dubai strategic plan, Abu Dhabi strategic plan, and economic plan are responsible for talent management. This means that, in the UAE as a whole, there is no centralized body for talent management undertakings.

With regard to the question on the body that is tasked with the duty of defining and formulating policies related to talent management, Mr. Adel Al Falasi says that the federal government through various departments is mandated to do so. According to Mr. Adel Al Falasi, there are several good examples of good practices in both the government and private sectors that provide breeding grounds for the development of talents within the UAE. They include Etisalat and the Emirates Airlines. In these organizations, there has been incredible Emiratisation. The UAE people are placed on highly technical tasks such as serving as pilots. He is also quick to pinpoint that talents within the UAE are not fragmented on gender discourses. Mr. Adel Al Falasi informs that the UAE faces challenges that are contributed by the incapacity to solidly move its people into the new economic world that is driven by perspectives of knowledge-based development, which are often created through allowing talents to flourish within a nation. Therefore, one can question the extent to which the UAE is preparing Emirates’ people to fit in new jobs to be created within a span of a decade or two to come. Can the government enhance talent management in the UAE? Mr. Adel Al Falasi admits that it is possible. However, in the context of the UAE, it is done through the naturalization legislative policy, which he argues is not adequate to foster talent development in any nation, leave alone the UAE. According to him, some remarkable bodies have been developed to look into this issue both from paradigms of roles of stakeholders and at an individual level.

According to Dr. Hassan Al Alkim, talent management is a new concept in the UAE though not exceptionally new in the academic discipline. He informs that the concept of talent management in the UAE first attracted academic interest in 1998. At this time, there was confusion between what amounted to talent management and HR management. With regard to Dr. Hassan Al Alkim, talent management refers to the hunting of people with certain criteria coupled with putting in place appropriate strategies for retaining them. Dr. Hassan Al Alkim does believe that talents are found everywhere including in the UAE. However, the main question is what needs to be done in the UAE to ensure that talents are natural. Before even answering this question, Dr. Hassan Al Alkim raises an additional question on how talented people can be segregated from untalented people. He is quick to note that talent is not dependent on educational qualifications as a Ph.D. holder may not be necessary talented.

When asked about who is in charge of talent management in the university, Dr. Hassan Al Alkim says that the CEO needs to head the efforts of talent management in any organization, as opposed to dedicating the task in totality to HR. To him, the role of the CEO in talent management is to perform intervention functions in helping to make sure that ideas are developed and, or mechanisms are put in place to ensure that ideas are explored such as the subsidizing of research. According to him, this strategy helps to ensure ease of transmission of ideas developed by talented people into the market. Dr. Hassan Al Alkim points out that he does not have any role in the discussion of talent management within the UAE. However, within the university, he contends that he has once been engaged with the task of pushing for students who have the highest potentials to become more pivotal and effective in helping to shape the development of the university.

On the issue of the key debates surrounding the topic of talent management within Emirates, Dr. Hassan Al Alkim admits that he does not know of one. To him, shortages of talents exist in all fields and sectors of the economy in a nation. Thus, it is not a wonder that there is also a shortage of talent management in the UAE. About the current management strategies in the UAE, Dr. Hassan Al Alkim puts it clear that he does not know of any probably because there is not even a single. To him, in the UAE, talent management is not a centralized function. Rather, it is decentralized such that every company manages and controls its own talents. Additionally, from his experience, there is no specific policy on talent management in the UAE. Dr. Hassan Al Alkim indicates that there is resistance to talent management in Emirates since a call for localization of some jobs is often not implemented amid the heavy emphasis from the government for companies to do so. He calls the resistors the old guards. In this regard, he also admits that there are poor practices of talent management in the Emirates.

The question of how the empowerment of the nation is managed in the UAE makes him gabble with efforts to differentiate between localization concept as applied in the context of the UAE and empowerment. To this end, he reckons that empowerment is associated with delegation of authority. In the due process, people are given an opportunity to pursue what they are best suited at- talents. Segregation of talent development and empowerment based on gender sends Dr. Hassan Al Alkim berserk. Dr. Hassan Al Alkim claims that talent management cannot be addressed from the perspectives of gender segregation as talent is not divided or distributed based on social and demographic characteristics. According to Dr. Hassan Al Alkim, future talent management needs to start from the position of appreciation of the fact that talents exist and need to be protected and developed. Furthermore, according to Dr. Hassan Al Alkim, the main challenges to talent management are tied within the paradigms of mindset, structural, and cultural hindrances. For organizations to promote effective talent development, Dr. Hassan Al Alkim insists that they need to recruit based on merit besides embarking on supporting talented people in their research work. According to Mr. Nasir Al Shamsi, talent management efforts are divided depending on the desired UAE social and economic development. This strategy helps in defining the number of people who are required to work to help in building specific pillars such as the public sector within a given period.

Responding to the question on who is responsible for defining talent in the UAE, Mr. Nasir Al Shamsi insists that he does not know what this question actually means. Rather, he chooses to reframe it into, who is responsible for talent management in UAE. He says that whether in the public or in the private sector, the human resource department takes care of talents coupled with empowerment of the emirates’ nationals. However, media also plays some proactive roles in helping to build and develop talent culture among the emirates’ citizens. Mr. Nasir Al Shamsi plays central role in the discussion of talent management in the UAE since he is part of the leadership of TANMIA. He says that his foremost objective in TANMIA is to ensure that the UAE economy becomes competitive and driven by knowledge bases that are provided by the UAE people. He identifies the need for setting a road map for talents development as the main issue in the UAE pertaining to talent management.

According to Mr. Nasir Al Shamsi, no single sector can be taken as lacking talents. Talent is required in every sector. As the sectors grow, more demand for talent rises in the UAE. This outcome makes no single sector talent adequate. Guided by the question on the strategies that are being implemented in the UAE for talent management, Mr. Nasir Al Shamsi says that his highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid sets the strategy for talent management clear through his announcement of 2013 as the year of nationalization. The chief objective of this policy is to enhance proper planning and supporting talents to help in the realization of making the economy of emirates become knowledge-based. Mr. Nasir Al Shamsi informs that, in the UAE, there are large numbers of entities that define the policies that pertain to talent management in the UAE. However, he says that the governments moderate all these entities. As a policy, nationalization acts as the strategy for empowering the nationals coupled with hiking their talent levels. According to Mr. Nasir Al Shamsi, the main hindrances or challenges to talent development in the UAE include the reluctance of the UAE to embrace the local talents and allow the locals to display their talents. Nationals also act as an impediment to talent development due to issues such as poor understanding of job culture, mindset, and neglect of building a talent culture. To him, there is no reluctance towards talent management on the government’s part. However, more programs for talent management need to be put in place.

Mr. Nasir Al Shamsi exemplifies good practices that truncate into talent management with Mohammad Bin Rashid’s leadership program in which the first batch graduated in 2005. He also considers the Dubai police forces’ talent club as a good example of talent management practice. On the other hand, bad practice for talent management entails negligence of children’s talents by their parents. He is also quick to note that the future strategy for talent management in the UAE needs to focus more on the empowerment of the nationals. To Mr. Nasir Al Shamsi, the government can aid in the enhancement of talent management in the UAE through creating enablers such as corporate governance and appropriate political climate to incubate talents. On the other hand, Mr. Nasir Al Shamsi says that organizations can make talent management effective by enhancing sincere partnerships by making real contributions in the field of talent management.

Discussion of the results

From the results of the interviews, the three interviewees place emphasis on the significance of talent management in enhancing the future growth of private sectors in the UAE. Apart from the UAE, elsewhere across the globe, nations look for mechanisms of making their organizations grow in terms of profitability both at the present and in the future. Tapping the potential of young educated people has been a working strategy. In fact, The United Arab Emirates posits, “…the young nationals do excel and meet the highest world standards” (2007, Para. 4). Consequently, many nations have resorted to privatizations of the organization in the public sector to allow creativity and innovation. Indeed, privatization is one of the ways of encouraging the growth of the talent of creativity. Nevertheless, in the past one decade, production capacity of organizations across the globe has called for firms to look for mechanisms of enhancing their competitive advantage for them to continue doing business in a rapidly globalizing business environment (Brundage & Koziel 2010, p.2). One of the mechanisms of doing this task is by harnessing and putting in place appropriate strategies to manage the talents of employees (Brundage & Koziel 2010, p.3). This step is perhaps vital in the effort to make sure that an organization is information-based, creative, and innovative in comparison to competing organizations.

From the interview results, building a nation that is both information and knowledge-based is considered by Mr. Adel Al Falasi as one of the means through which the UAE can take advantage of the existing talents of the UAE nationals to drive the economic growth of the Emirates. Mr. Adel Al Falasi insisted on the necessity of talent management in its ability to help in curtailing organization brain drain. According to Mr. Adel Al Falasi, it is inappropriate for the UAE to allocate a single section of government to handle issues of talent management particularly due to bureaucratic processes that are associated with authoritative forms of governance. The results show that PMO’s office has a noble role in enhancing the transformation of talents possessed by people working in the public sector into economic development.

The concerns of Mr. Adel Al Falasi are significant if the UAE is dedicated to transforming the talents possessed by its nationals into real products and services that can be placed in the market to yield global success. Managing talents within a nation is not a single sector, organization, or even a single section of the arm of the government task. Individuals and all stakeholders within an organization must appreciate, identify, and look for mechanisms of building and developing talents of people to attain overall organizational success (Brundage & Koziel 2010, p.4). For this case to happen, it is necessary to address the impediments to talent development in the UAE such as poor talent culture as cited by Mr. Adel Al Falasi and Mr. Nasir Al Shamsi through appropriate government-initiated programs, which may help in incubation of talents.

From the results of the interview with Dr. Hassan Al Alkim, retaining talented people is crucial since they are normally in high demand to drive success of various sectors and competing organizations. Indeed, according to Conger and Fulmer (2003), successful organizations only invest in what will yield optimal results at the end (p.77). This assertion implies that only the best ideas need to be financed from the resource pool of an organization. The quickest source of these ideas is the employees. Hence, talent management is essential for nations such as the UAE, which, according to the results of the study, are seeking to build their success culture from the existing knowledge base of their people. While it is crucial for all stakeholders within an organization to help in talent development, Revels and Morris (2012) agree with the approach of the UAE to place the role of talent management to the department of human resource management. However, they insist that the CEO of an organization also needs to contribute to the creating of an environment for talent development (Revels & Morris 2012, p.63). They further argue, “if talent management is a core part of any organization—if it can be hard-wired into the fabric and operations of an organization’s most essential functions—HR and senior leadership must work together” (Revels & Morris 2012, p.64). This assertion means that, for success in the management of talents within an organization to be realized, the CEO and other senior leaders within an organization need to help the HR in an enthusiastic manner to build an organizational culture that encourages talent development. The CEO being the vision carrier for an organization needs to articulate the roles of employees’ talents development in enhancing the success of the organization in the vision statement. This way, it perhaps becomes possible to turn around many of the challenges for talent development in the UAE as cited by Dr. Hassan Al Alkim and Mr. Nasir Al Shamsi.

The consistent association of the HR with the roles of talent management within the UAE by the three interviewees sheds light on the significance of enlarging the traditional roles of the HR to include the creation of talent oriented organizational culture. Conger and Fulmer (2003) are also inclined to this line of argument by asserting, “HR needs to own and put in place professional talent management processes” (p.79). This means that HR needs to not only get close to the employees to help in resolving conflicts of interest that may have an overall negative impact on an organization but also to get much closer to business operations. This way, the HR can identify the existing talent potential among employees, which while further developed and managed can act as one of the essential forces of success of the organization in question. In fact, Salem says, “Although the UAE leads the Arab world in sectors such as tourism, more work needs to be done in other areas” (2011, Para. 4).

Therefore, decentralization of the organizational functions so that the employees are given opportunities to make decisions that are consistent with the overall mission and goal of an organization is necessary. Indeed, bureaucratic systems hinder innovation and creativity, which are catalysts for talent development. One of the most plausible ways of accomplishing this task is to make HR “work with line managers to develop business plans that integrate talent plans including advice on the ability to meet the business goal with the talent on board” (Handfield-Jones, Michaels, & Axelrod 2001, p.55). The absence of specialized professionals for development of talent management in the UAE is evident from the results. Therefore, this argument implies that, for the realization of an economy driven by knowledge bases that are derived from the existing pool of talents of the nationals of the UAE, it is vital to have a talent management professional to help in the resolution of challenges emanating from talent management gaps. About Handfield-Jones, Michaels, and Axelrod (2001), “…talent management professionals have to be trusted business advisors who execute the organization’s talent management process” (p.55).

For the talent management professionals to be successful in their work, there needs to be a harmonious definition of what amounts to national talent. However, with regard to the results of the study, evaluating talent from the context of the contributions made by researchers in enhancing development of a scholarly body of knowledge is fundamentally based on what a particular person perceives as talented. Dr. Hassan Al Alkim argued that people have the capacity to make contributions to terrorism, misconduct and misbehaviors among other things. On the other hand, in case a person invents a cure for a given ailment that has been of immense concern to the society, that person is regarded as talented in the educational context. Therefore, the results of the interview with Dr. Hassan Al Alkim clearly reveal that talent is a question of ethical and moral characteristics of contributions made by people in a particular area of research.

Amid the consideration of the need for utilization of talents of the UAE nationals as instruments for development of technical expertise and hence changing the focus of the UAE economy from being based on service to manufacturing, the results of the study evidence that talent management remains an abstract concept in the UAE. For instance, Mr. Nasir Al Shamsi, a General Manager of TANMIA, the national human resource development and employment authority maintains that defining talent management in the context of the UAE requires the definition of the direction that is headed by the UAE economy. According to him, by doing this effort, it becomes possible to define the required talent competencies for making the UAE economy knowledge-based. However, other interviewees do not think this way. They all defined the concept from their own perceptive as opposed to some agreed-upon definitions of the concept within the context of its applicability in the UAE.

Bearing in mind that the modern-day organizations are highly specialized, defining organizational success factors, talent is one of them, with regard to the business of an organization is perhaps critical by considering Ruppe (2006) argument that “no two people, organizations, or cultures are the same” (p.43). Arguably, on the international front, the difference between people constitutes the failure or the success of an organization. While failure is not desired by any organization or nation, success can be achieved by focusing on the characteristics of the employees that add value, create innovation, and drive growth. Hence, successful organizations are the ones that are capable of unlocking human potential. This potential is presented in the form of talents. Policies and programs to induce talent development and growth in the UAE remain imperative to the extent that they aid in the unlocking of human potential and utilization of the unlocked potential to achieve strategic visions of the UAE such as vision 2021.


Public and private sectors rely on employees to execute their duties. In the due process of executing their tasks based on how they are executed, differences in talent endowment among the employees can be identified. These talents can then be developed to enhance better performance of organizations. In this context, the paper argued that using talent management to aid in gaining organizational success requires heavy emphasis on aligning talent management strategies with organizational strategies for doing business. There was a thorough discussion of the results of an interview conducted on Mr. Adel Al Falasi from the Prime Minister Office of the UAE and Dr. Hasan Al Alkim, the vice-chancellor at American university of Ra Khaimah, and Mr. Nasir Al Shamsi. It was argued that integrated talent management has the capacity to truncate into improvement of the engagement of employees to impact their retention in a positive way. Appreciation of their capabilities by giving them an opportunity to take part in decision-making is also confirmed as an essential mechanism of enhancing the levels of creativity and innovation of people working in an organization. Innovation and creativity were taken as being encouraged by allowing talent development to flourish. While the interviewees cite the reluctance of the Emirates’ people to venture into the private sector as a major hindrance to talent development and management in the UAE, the paper argued that decentralization of the organizational structures can give employees an enabling environment to develop their talents. Decentralization creates a work environment similar to the one that would exist in the private sector.


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