GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

Family Name:
First Name:
Title of Paper:
Meeting career expectations? Female student career perceptions versus industry employment expectations in Oman's private sector
Paper Proposal Text :
Gendered labour participation in the Arab world has been widely studied but little is known about the Gulf region, in particular Oman. The rentier nature of the economy and the subsequent distribution of oil wealth have had profound implications on the participation of citizens in the work force, particularly women. Despite labour nationalisation efforts and even though changing norms in society as well as political leadership are increasingly in favour of women that work, female labour participation in Oman has been below desired standards, particularly in the private sector: while almost half of the public sector jobs are taken up by Omani females, they fill only 2.7% of private sector positions (MoMP, 2012).

These figures reflect a larger trend of persistent labour market challenges in Oman concerning the reluctance of many nationals (both male and female) to gain employment in the private sector, which is competing with government jobs that are perceived to be ubquitously available, well paid, secure and socially acceptable (Forstenlechner & Rutledge, 2010; Hertog, 2012; Al Waqfi & Forstenlechner, 2012). While it is not only difficult to attract Omani nationals to the private sector, it is also difficult to retain them, and job turnover is high. One-third of Omanis left their job in 2012 in the private sector (36%). Of the terminated jobs, 69% of employees left due to resignation (MoMP, 2012).

Low satisfaction with work conditions, low pay and a mismatch between job seekers’ qualifications and job requirements have often been mentioned as reasons undermining private sector employment, however these issues have largely remained understudied in Oman. The current offer and achievements in higher education are leaning towards academic degrees rather than vocational training, which does not match the current low skill and low pay nature of private sector jobs, where two-thirds of private sector jobs filled by Omani nationals were in the lowest skill and salary scales in 2012 (MoMP, 2012).

Rising levels of education and the cultural legacy of the welfare state where well-paid white-collar jobs in the government sector had always been perceived to be widely available, affect the career expectations of young graduates. Although understudied, it is widely acknowledged that the low-status nature of private sector jobs does not meet the career expectations and preferences of recent graduates with academic degrees. In an earlier study by the author about career perceptions of Omani tourism students (Bontenbal & Aziz, 2013), it was found that high and unrealistic career expectations pose a threat to future job satisfaction as these unrealistic expectations may not be met, resulting in job disappointment and resignation.

The challenges of matching education and employment appear to be more deeply manifested for females. Women currently enjoy a very strong profile in the public sector segment and female graduates are generally better educated than males. However, due to various social and cultural constraints, a preference for careers among women in which Omanisation has already been fulfilled to a large extent (such as teaching), and the deepened mismatch between educational attainment (girls perform better than boys and obtain higher degrees on average) and the low quality nature of private sector jobs intensifies the employability challenge.

This paper addresses the perception of Omani female near-graduates towards private sector employment and analyses to what extent their expectations of future employment match with private sector employers’ expectations towards the employability of graduates. Empirical research is carried out by means of qualitative methods – focus groups and semi-structured in-depth interviews - among two groups of respondents: 1) female near-graduates and 2) private sector employers. Graduates’ career perceptions and expectations are compared against employers’ expressed HR needs and their perceptions of the employability of young Omani graduates.

Female students in their final year of various BSc programmes at the German University (GUtech) in Muscat will be asked about their expectations and perceptions of future employment and their preferences with regard to career development and work attitude. Subsequently, a number of HR managers and company owners are interviewed about their expectations and preferences of employing new labour market entrants, in order to assess the general labour market needs in terms of knowledge, skills and experience. As such, human resource requirements from the industry side are compared against the career perceptions and expectations of students. The study builds on earlier work by the author addressing labour nationalization in Oman and career perceptions among nationals (Bontenbal & Aziz, 2014; Zerovec & Bontenbal, 2011).

Al Waqfi, M.A. & I. Forstenlechner (2012) Of private sector fear and prejudice: The case of young citizens in an oil-rich Arabian Gulf economy. Personnel Review 41(5), pp. 609-629.
Bontenbal, M. & H. Aziz (2013) Oman’s tourism industry: Student career perceptions and attitudes. Journal of Arabian Studies 3(2), pp. 232-248.
Forstenlechner, I. & E. Rutledge (2010) Unemployment in the Gulf: Time to update the ‘social contract’. Middle East Policy 17(2), pp. 38-51.

Hertog, S. (2012) A comparative assessment of labor market nationalization policies in the GCC. In: Hertog, S. (ed.) National employment, migration and education in the GCC. The Gulf Region: economic development and diversification, 4, pp. 65-106. Berlin: Gerlach Press.
MoMP (2012) Ministry of Manpower Annual Report 2012. Muscat: Ministry of Manpower.
Zerovec, M. & M. Bontenbal (2011) Labor nationalization policies in Oman: Implications for Omani
and migrant women workers. Asian Pacific Migration Journal 20(3-4), pp. 365-387.