More than half a million new jobs (572,835) were created in Oman between 2012 and 2016, according to the latest data from the National Centre for Statistics and Information (NCSI) – but there is more work to be done for those out of work.

By the end of 2016, some 2.25 million people were in private or public sector employment, with the growth occurring despite the fall in oil prices over the same period. More than 80 per cent of those employed were expats, but of the expat workers, 35 per cent were blue collar construction workers.

Foreign workers outnumbered Omanis in several sectors: construction; education; hotel and restaurants; wholesale and retail trade; and engineering. The Ministry of Manpower’s end of July statistics showed just 236,729 Omanis were working in the private sector, compared to 1.87 million expats.

To boost Omani employment, the Council of Ministers has recently been part of a drive to create 25,000 additional public and private sector jobs for nationals. One press report stated that the bigger plan was to create 40,000-50,000 jobs for Omanis every year for the next five years. Around 60 per cent of the new roles created would be in the public sector, while the private sector is being encouraged to replace expats with nationals.

Projects that will create jobs are also underway. The airports at Muscat and Salalah are being expanded, and two additional airports are being built in Ras Al Hadd and Duqm; modernisation of the mining industry in Sohar is ongoing, with the aim of attracting foreign investment; and a US$7 billion agreement with Kuwait Petroleum International will see the construction of a new oil refinery in Duqm, alongside a new $10.7 billion city in the area, co-financed by Chinese investors.

However, there are still significant numbers of Omanis out of work. And as most of the new jobs are blue collar, they often do not appeal to educated nationals. According to the website Trading Economics, the Omani unemployment rate increased to 17.5 per cent in 2016 from 17.3 per cent in 2015. Figures from the Ministry of Manpower show that Omani unemployment has hit a 40-year high, with almost 60,000 Omanis looking for jobs and more than 33,000 of them university graduates.

Mohammed Al Kharusi, chairman at Intersearch Executive Search ME in Oman, said the private sector could do much to help boost Omanisation, especially among those Omanis who are not of graduate level: “Companies need to accept that they have to develop Omanis if they are to do business in Oman. It is a ‘license to operate’, and as such they should reserve a budget from their annual profits to train and develop Omanis using coaching, on-the-job training or apprenticeship schemes,” he said. “Companies should also take advantage of the training fund to equip Omanis with the necessary skills and competences to make them employable in industry.”

Al Kharusi does not blame the unemployed Omani graduates for their plight, but does acknowledge that “behaviour and a lack of a can-do mentality is also a barrier to recruitment”. He added: “The Omani millennials need to move from a culture of having everything handed to them on a plate, to that of survival of the fittest and self-development to acquire skills and competences to make themselves marketable.”

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