OMAN AT WORK

Oman 2014 | ECONOMY | FOCUS: MANPOWER

Like many countries with small populations, Oman has traditionally relied on foreign nationals to fill positions left open by a lack of eligible workers, but now that tide is turning thanks to Omanization targets.

Ever since HM Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said came to power in 1970, he has understood the problem of becoming too dependent on foreign nationals in the workforce, especially in skilled jobs. Therefore, in 1988 the Sultan initiated the Omanization process of the country by replacing foreign workers with trained Omani personnel. Initially, the government set a target of 72% Omanization in government positions before the turn of the century, which was not only achieved, but also surpassed at 86%. The government then set targets in six areas of the private sector. Transport, storage, and communicatiors are grouped as one with a target of 60%; finance, which includes insurance and real estate, is set at 45%; industry must meet 35% Omanization; hotels and restaurants 30%; wholesale and retail 20%; and contracting should have at least a 15% Omanization rate. The majority of companies have signed up to the Omanization program and those that achieve the targeted rate receive a “green card," which brings preferential treatment when dealing with the Ministry of Manpower.

Oman has a population of 3.8 million according to the National Centre for Statistics and Information, of which 2.11 million are Omani nationals. Oman currently has a workforce of 1.6 million and a total Omanization rate of 17%, which equates to around 212,000 workers. To increase the number of nationals working it is also important that the government and relevant ministries provide and improve education and training programs for job seekers. “The Ministry [of Manpower] has endeavored to increase employment opportunities for national job seekers and prepare the Omani youth by providing them with the necessary education and training, helping them develop knowledge and skills, while focusing on the specializations required by the labor market," HE Abdullah Nasser Al Bakri, the Minister of Manpower, explained to TBY in an interview. According to the government, Oman is currently producing 40,000 graduates annually, and so in December 2012 the government set a new target for the private sector to employ 30% of all new Omani graduates, which equates to around 12,000 nationals a year.

One segment that is working hard to maintain its Omanization level is the banking sector. It's overall requirement is set at 90%, yet it has surpassed this and as of March 2013 most banks in the Sultanate maintain a level of around 92.5%, according to the Central Bank of Oman (CBO). However, the CBO wishes to increase this level further still in a more favorable ratio within the various components of the banking sector. In a 2013 circular, it has set sub-targets for positions within a bank. Currently, Omanization rates should reach 65% for senior management by December 2015 and 75% by December 2016, with a possible future target of 90% by 2018. For middle management, the CBO wants 90% of positions filled by Omanis before December 2016 and 100% of clerical and non-clerical positions in the same period. There are some exceptions to these rules, such as foreign banks, which are allowed to have foreign nationals as CEOs and country managers, while Islamic banks have four years from the commencement of business to achieve the required rates. The government hopes that by increasing these targets it will be able to attract more Omanis into this sector that will provide a stable and reliable career path.

The government is also hoping to create more jobs in the sales and distribution sector. It hopes to increase the Omanization level to 45% by 2015 in this labor-intensive field, which is currently dominated by foreign workers. It is estimated that it will create an additional 11,000 jobs for Omani nationals. In the sales and distribution sector, the Ministry of Manpower is hoping to make Omanis the more attractive option by providing vocational training programs in 23 of 35 specialist fields.