Future of nationalization of the workforce in Yemen [Archives:2003/647/Business & Economy]

July 3 2003

By Majid Shahadat
University of Calgary
[email protected]

Yemeni leaders have used it in their politics; foreign companies have used it in their bid to gain the good-will of Yemeni officials; human resource personnel have spent countless hours and resources analyzing it. Two decades and millions of dollars later Yemen is still struggling with the concept of nationalization of its Oil & Gas (O&G) industry.
This paper will try to address the troubling reality of Yemenization of Yemen's O&G industry and the skills essential in today's global market.
What separates “high-potential” employees, who rise rapidly within their organizations to positions of great prominence and leadership, from those who do not? Why are expatriate workers in Yemen the ones capable of transforming their technical knowledge and experience into successful entrepreneurial ventures, while Yemenis fall short of this financially rewarding accomplishment?
Answers to these questions indicate that highly successful employees are not only technically astute, but also often possess some of the extra or 'soft' skills that many believe are becoming more critical for workers today. Many highly qualified Yemeni workers with awe-inspiring degrees lament on how come they are stuck with menial jobs for decades when it takes only a couple of years for an expatriate to climb up the corporate ladder.
Little are they aware of what is missing from their portfolio.
Here in the West it is taken for granted that today's employers insist soft skills are the core of a successful employee. Unfortunately, in a country where acquiring just the degree itself is regarded as an accomplishment, our Western colleagues are not making a worthwhile effort to educate the Yemeni workforce on what really makes a “good” employee.

Employers Expect a Full Package
Managers believe the skills required of employees today fall into three categories:
1. Fundamental technical skills, which are expected from all employees;
2. Extra or 'soft' skills, which are important to develop and maintain;
3. Personal characteristics deemed necessary for continued success.

Fundamental Technical Skills
The basic requirements of new employees include solid Education, Logical Thought Process, Good Work Ethics and Computer Literacy. These hard technical skills are critical.
Fortunately, Yemen is full of qualified individuals who have these hard skills.
Although these basic skills are necessary, employees today are expected to complement their technical knowledge and ability with several other skills, both to add value to their contributions to the organization and to enjoy personal achievement and success.
Employees Must Develop Soft Skills, whether they like it or not “Based on interviews with industry managers, government and academic leaders from around the world the consensus results indicate that employees should understand the career-enhancing value of soft skills to progress in today's global, “open-market” economy.”
While many Western O&G managers in Yemen are pleased with the technical skills their
Yemeni workers bring to the organization, they are concerned that many of these workers lack the critical soft skills necessary in today's workplace: a). English Written and oral communications; b). Ability to work and cooperate in teams; c). Familiarity with business matters.

a) Employees Must Be Able to Write It Well and Present It, Too
Yemeni graduates are unfortunately not trained well in communicating in English, the main language of the O&G industry. It is not surprising then that these highly qualified nationals are unable to impress their Western bosses. Managers want workers who can write clear, concise and comprehensive reports in English. Oral communication is also very important – presentations are becoming an increasingly integral part of the O&G industry.

b) Team Players Always Win
Yemeni employees can no longer afford to merely play the role of the isolated worker.
They must consider the big picture and the changing employment realities around them.
They must learn to work easily and cooperatively with others. Today, things are more complicated and corporations want individuals who are able to operate as team players.

c) Business Finance
Managers expect their workforce to be able to participate in budgeting, forecasting and financial analysis related to their projects. They believe that the better their employees understand and appreciate business finance, the more productive they will become.

Personal Characteristics
Today's managers seek dedication and want workers who maintain the self-discipline to accomplish their basic job functions while adding another 20%. Due to the very nature of
Yemen's culture, absolute dedication to anything other than one's family or religion is demonized. Foreign companies can do more to make the nationals realize that going beyond one's call of duty is what would make them successful in a Western organization.
Today's managers also seek persistence. This trait involves developing an approach to accomplish the defined task in the allotted time, regardless of the hurdles that appear.
Again, nationals cannot be expected to complete a job at the expense of their other commitments, an idea that is sometimes unacceptable to expatriate managers.
While training and practice tend to improve the aforementioned corporate necessities, personal attributes are typically innate qualities that are harder to refine and are a result of centuries of social and intellectual evolvement. It is understandable why these traits are sometimes hard to find amongst nationals in a country that only recently has begun to open up to the world. But that's not to say that improvement cannot be achieved; the expatriates should embark on an awareness program. In short, executives want nationals who approach challenges with a positive attitude, an attitude hard to find in a third world country on the brink of anarchy.

A personal perspective:
Having worked for a Canadian O&G giant in Yemen I can personally vouch on the importance of soft skills. The only reason I was promoted five times over a five year period was because I had these “extra” skills. Strangely though, throughout my work tenure I was never aware of anything called 'soft skills'. It is only after my studying business in Calgary was I introduced to a term that had previously dictated my success! Not once in Yemen did any supervisor mention these all important skills, let alone help me develop them! Being the nice people they are, the Canadian managers would never use the strong term “lacking soft skills”, but instead politely claim that the national was not the “right fit”! I can now understand why an expatriate supervisor in Yemen would be hesitant to hire a local who cannot be a team player or lack any management skills.

In Conclusion: Who Is Responsible for Development?
The Yemeni worker must understand that Western employers believe the responsibility for personal development rests with the individual. The world has changed. Managers expect their employees to possess skills over and above the job requirements. Their message is clear: employees who want to move forward in an organization should work to obtain ) and then improve upon ) soft and personal skills and characteristics to the best of their abilities. Because foreign corporations in Yemen lack any awareness programs on soft skills they have failed in sending this message across to the national workforce and hence bear some responsibility for the failure of Yemenization.

Where to Start?
A small step such as placing soft skills under job descriptions might be a good start.