Lawrence Alva, CEO of National Training Institute, talks about the changing dynamics in national talent development and job creation 

Developing the national talent- by equipping the young population with relevant skillsets and creating a dynamic work environment where they can grow and prosper- has been a collective responsibility involving four key stakeholders: job seekers, private sector employers, training providers and, most importantly, the government which provides the requisite funding. The last few decades have seen collaborative efforts among these vital players contribute in achieving high rates of Omanisation across vital economic sectors in the Sultanate.

Training providers have been working in tandem with the private sector companies by understanding their requirements. While corporates face short supply of skilled Omanis, training companies help them mobilise the talent they require and equip them with the requisite skills. The whole process is supported by the government, which either funds the training, provides stipends to the trainees or facilitates on-the-job training by subsidising their salaries.

However, the recent increase in the number of job seekers coupled with a marked drop in the number of new jobs in the private sector challenges the existing dynamics in the job market. The number of job seekers are increasing day by day and there is no shortage of funding sources as well as that of the capacity and capability to train them. But there are hardly any new jobs in the private sector. This is a critical challenge of national importance demanding serious attention from all stake holders.

Lawrence Alva, an industry veteran and CEO of National Training Institute, feels that there is an urgent need to change the mindset and redraw the priorities to weather this challenge. He observes that the partnership between employers, government, training providers and job seekers is becoming very critical. “Getting Omanis into jobs is one of the top national priorities,” he says. “There are thousands of Omanis coming out of schools and colleges looking out for jobs; but the opportunities are not there. It is a huge national challenge.”

However, he contends that not having new jobs is not an excuse for denying opportunities for the Omanis. He suggests that several positions held by expats can be Omanised, if Omanis are trained properly and developed with the relevant skillsets.

He calls for a change of attitude. “There are job opportunities,” he avers. “A number of job positions are held by expatriates, simply because they come with experience and are ready for work. And for businesses, it makes sense to employ someone who is experienced and is available at a lower cost. They think employing Omanis for similar position is expensive. But if private sector employers are committed to the cause of Omanisation, they can make it happen. But it’s not just one-sided. Young Omanis also need to cooperate and start developing themselves. They also should change their mindset. Instead of feeling that they are entitled to a job, they should start working towards earning the right to a job. Young Omanis should be competitive enough to compete with fellow Omanis as well as expats for jobs.”

However, Lawrence says that there is a significant change in the mindset of young Omanis in terms of their passion for work, readiness to work hard, lofty career ambitions, dedication to constant learning etc. “Today the young Omanis are exhibiting the passion and drive. There is a noticeable difference and a lot of positive change in the attitude and mindset of young Omanis. Now the ball is in the court of the employers who have to cash in on this. There are talented, hardworking and ambitious Omanis who need to be supported, encouraged and uplifted by the employers. Unfortunately most of the employers are stuck to their usual way of running their businesses by hiring expatriate workers, who are available at comparatively lower costs. The mindset that employing Omanis will result in high cost and low productivity needs to change in order to ensure effective Omanisation happens.”

Elaborating on the magnitude and complexity of the current crisis, he adds, “A few years ago we used to face an acute shortage of qualified Omanis. But now the situation has changed; we have a lot of Omani graduates equipped with varying qualifications looking for jobs. What they lack is the training which will equip them with relevant skillsets. The funding to train them is also in ample supply. The government is very keen to support them through a variety of channels such as the National Training Fund. In addition, there are several CSR funds available for training Omanis for jobs. Currently, all these sources of funding are available only for training Omanis for employment and not for development while on the job. Therefore, the challenge today is the lack of fresh job opportunities in a sluggish market. In this situation, it is prudent to train and certify young Omanis in trades, which are relevant to Omani industries and ensure a pool of competent and ready-to-work job seekers are available. This, I believe, would give an edge for foreign investment into Oman and greater confidence to existing employers to recruit more Omanis in place of expatriates”.

Lawrence also calls for addressing the imbalance in the job market whereby Omanis are priced higher than expats for the same position, which will eventually tip the scale in favour of the latter. “A lot of expats are prepared to come and work at very competitive salaries. Can we make the recruitment of expats expensive, or at least as expensive as recruiting Omanis? As long as this imbalance exists, businesses would rightfully opt for high productivity at low cost. This is a critical issue and needs to be addressed for Omanisation to succeed”.

In short, at this critical juncture where Oman needs to build its future talent pool of professionals, technicians and leaders, training providers stand to play a pivotal role. The Sultanate has quality training providers capable of taking up this challenge; and their role is going to be instrumental in bringing about this transition by training the nation’s future workforce.

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