A paper that also charts the journey of UAE since the Federation.

This paper will evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the following three career development theories: Matching specifically focusing on John Holland, secondly Boundarlyless/Protean careers (e.g. Arthur & Rousseau, 1995) along with Douglas Hall (e.g. 2002), and thirdly  Postmodern/Constructivist/Narrative with the approach of Mark Savickas.

Here in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) which became a federation forty-eight years ago, you can track a change from living to work through to working to live and the diversification of work from jobs to careers. Having lived here since 1995 it can be observed and witnessed along with actively participating in the change personally. Before the discovery of oil and gas, UAE was predominantly seven states that lived off the land or from the sea; fishing and pearl diving, farming, agriculture, dates and shepherding. There were some government jobs and family businesses but this grew exponentially once the oil was found, and then it could be observed quite clearly as the world of work started to see matching careers to people in its infancy as described by John Holland, (e.g. Holland, 1985) rather than government or family business. The idea that people have different patterns of interests is relevant here in the sense that their choices were defined by the industry rather than the individual. The changes that have taken place are sociological in the first instance gradually becoming intertwined with the psychological as UAE moved into positioning itself as a global player.  Over forty-eight years from pearl diving to space, farming to solar energy and wind farms, quite an achievement in a very short time.


Krumboltz (1994) suggested that theory is a way of explaining what we observe, which makes sense logically. It is also a process that enables us to make sense of our narrative based on our life experiences and our journey through and as part of our development. To break it down it is a way of summarizing everything down to a few principals, in essence, the word theory is a methodology and guide that enables and facilitates our life and work journey. (Brown, 2002a; Krumboltz, 1994; Solmonson, Mullener, & Eckstein, 2009)


Holland, J. (1985) proposes that there are two clear types of personality, vocational or occupational which he then categorized into a further six types which can be traced over the years in the following order: conventional, social, realistic, enterprising and in more recent years investigative and artistic. The challenge with this when reviewed against the journey of work and later careers is that many did not make choices about their jobs but that they were situational and family influenced. The idea that there was anything like a choice is demonstrably debatable when it comes to matching during this period of huge change and growth. Although assumptions may be useful they can also deflect from the reality of a given situation and place all in circumstances where the person could find themselves conflicted. UAE Nationals are as diverse as are the emirates themselves and the move from basic religious education to academia and PhD holders can be charted as it is so dramatic and easily measurable due to the time frame. When making assumptions about both people and occupations there has been considerable stereotyping leading to dissatisfaction and disappointment for individuals and institutions. Even twenty-five years ago there were assumptions of what men and women would be able to do and they have been matched accordingly (ie. women as nurses and teachers and men as engineers and pilots). This changed when matching began a shift towards people to careers or jobs as the country itself developed and the government began to adopt public policies. Awareness also grew that male and female role models are important not only at home but also in schools. As role models directly impact choices and inadvertently or deliberately the decisions made or influenced by peer pressure. When this became obvious, men were encouraged to go into teaching and health care professions other than or rather than just doctors, and women engineers and even fighter pilots. The remuneration issue was a huge influence as a game-changer.


The boundaryless (e.g. Arthur & Rousseau, 1995) and protean careers Douglas Hall (e.g. 2002), began within organisations where careers and pathways were mapped out with points of entry and progression charted. However, the employees began to view their careers as no longer tied to one employer and to venture out of the confines or perception that a job was for life. This is or was, also a generational phenomenon as the world of work changed so much within the UAE and the opportunities that became available both at home and outside the region and the world. ETIHAD Airways formed in 2003 and quickly recognised the need to have Nationals in place and integrated into the company organisational structure, implementing a strategy to prepare employees for country manager positions at specified destinations as their representatives. Many companies operate a Career and Succession planning strategy, some do this overtly and others covertly, oftentimes being covert leads to employees being unaware of the company’s paths, for them as talent and they make their plans for their careers leaving the company to suffer both strategically and financially. The UAE Rulers and Government believes investment in Nationals benefits all parties in the overall scheme and bigger picture. The work conducted by Michael Arthur in Silicon Valley is not applicable here as this happens more so in international corporations where small teams are brought together then dismantled based on need at the time. Although having said this HH Sheik Mohamed Bin Rashid consistently brings teams together for projects at the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) including projects towards the Happiness Ministry which was indeed a tremendous project with a great outcome. 

Boundaryless careers are more relatable to those who work as consultants and this happens across the board within UAE and in more recent years you will see UAE nationals moving into this arena as their perception of a career and what it means matures.  It is very much a departure from traditional roles and matching careers to people and people to careers as some see themselves as employees and those who are more enterprising and entrepreneurial. The need for a regular paycheck is not the same as the excitement and unpredictableness of controlling one’s destiny by their efforts and interactions. Back in 1995, it would have been unheard of for Nationals to take up a position as a country representative for the national airline and live away from family and Emirate as mentioned above. Studying overseas to progress and integrate into the oil industry or attend Sandhurst for the military experience was not new in the early years. However, in the twenty-first century, working out of the UAE is more commonplace for both men and women with an expectation embedded that has created opportunities to serve the country anywhere, and this has and should become an everyday outcome. Douglas Hall (e.g. 2002), and the protean career, relates to an individual and the path they choose to make or take according to their own goals, desires and values. So, rather than being the Bedouin tribal notion of family, extended family and tribe instead of putting themselves at the centre of the career journey. However, that may seem incongruous and somewhat superficial for someone who is not from the UAE, even if it is the individual’s career drive the country will still be at the heart and root in that journey for contributing back and paying forwards. Almost all UAE Nationals are driven with a sense of pride for their country as well as themselves. The idea of a boundaryless and or protean career is a representation or description, more than that of a metaphor of something that can be tested out and is still not part of the UAE approach to work and career. In 2020 international corporate employers are beginning to realise and understand that to continue to do business in UAE they must engage with nationals and offer career paths with options and opportunities to move between settings. Government is no longer motivated for the populace to stay in a role for the duration of the working experience and lifetime.

Sociologically these theories are outdated in their lack of knowledge and understanding as they do not take into account the change in working practices, gender, lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer (LGBTQ (although this particular subject matter is covert and illegal with in the country)), race, religion, immigrants, and migrants, refugees fleeing war, famine, natural disasters, late parenting, males taking the home roles for parenting and elderly care. With the huge transition in status and expectations of employees, career development has to consider formal contracts and the subtlety of the social contract. The world of work and the rites of passage have changed irrevocably along with traditional routes to work and the various theories and ideas in a world of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA). Where all people are faced with a less certain world than ever before, particularly in this time of a huge health threat nothing is predictable. UAE has launched innovative initiatives which will affect work and education for years to come. Presently all educational facilities are closed and all studies are undertaken online, with self-directed learning for the entirety of the summer term until at least June. Everything in the world of work is uncertain other than people need to earn an income to live and raise their families and the changes imposed by the current pandemic will influence both education and working patterns going forwards. Existing patterns have been demonstrated to be open to innovation under a crisis and this presents an opportunity for a rewriting of the narrative if there is a will, because it has and can be done tradition is not always best as demonstrated at the beginning of this paper. (Brown, 2002a; Krumboltz, 1994; Solmonson, Mullener, & Eckstein, 2009) In the UAE the government is working towards taking people away from traditional once in a life or only government roles, by enticing people towards boundaryless or indeed protean work and lifestyles. More than anything the people are shaping their careers although there is no empirical evidence to demonstrate that yet. El Sawy (2020) writes about UAE MILLIONAIRES being the youngest in the world (average age of thirty-five) and this moves us forward to the next theory as self-improvement, legacy and passing on values are seen as primary motivators.


Mark Savickas, (2012) a psychologist from the USA, known for life design and career adaptability, integrated other theories and practice and began to approach career counselling as a career construction interview. Namely eliciting early memories from the client related specifically to their influences from different aspects of media (ie books, films, social experiences, study and travel overseas), which then leads to life themes. There has also been some dissatisfaction with the perspectives on career development arising from psychology, and constructivism. This is because psychological approaches, and the associated recommendations to learn career management skills, seem to place all the responsibility for coping with economic change on individuals, not on employers, social institutions and governments.

When researching women entering the workforce within UAE, Hamade (2016) specifically sampled national employees from both genders and two specific sources; final year university students and banking professionals. The banking sector is of particular significance as this was an area that Nationals had not been entering for challenges related to Sharia compliance, religious beliefs and culture. Once sharia-compliant banking came to the forefront this removed a hurdle and allowed more self-scripting rather than family pressure on career direction and choices. Hospitality has been another area where writing one’s narrative was significantly challenging due to the presence and consumption of alcohol, or even to work in a financial role where the income was generated through or from the sale of alcohol. When we consider aviation there are many aspects to this as there is a link between finance, hospitality and travel and of course we have sharia compliance and again alcohol. Many Nationals were able to navigate this cultural taboo and journey choice in the early years, by justifying the representation of the country and indeed were able to take positions as country managers in lands where the airlines had outposts. Emirates and Etihad being the two prime examples where the social and psychological aspects and pride at the portrayal of UAE overcame objections and allowed Nationals to be brand ambassadors and thus working their narrative with that of the country.


In 2016 an enterprising individual realized that there was a gap in the market for high flying talent to be identified by potential employers. JobsForNationals was then created and has since been a flagship partner with Dubai based Careers Expo where employers both local and international reach out to Emirati Nationals between the ages of 18-25. When invited to be part of the advisory board and partner for academic outreach, working with UAE Nationals and specifically the, it combined a huge percentage of the work that I had been involved with over the past twenty years and passion was included. The postgraduate course will not only benefit but enhance all interactions and activities going forward specifically looking at the international community and the need for engaging with UAE nationals. One particular group that has been identified is Zayed University, and the unemployed alumni and how to rewrite the narrative of a high achieving group of people. Adapting not just their mindset away from the public sector but not to adopt the viewpoint of the parents who are still with that life journey, and the only choice of experience working with corporate giants of the oil and gas industry. (ADNOC, ENOC, FERTIL etc) Hooley, Sultana & Thomsen (2017), are very practical related to socio-economic structures and suggest that it is not, in fact, reasonable to expect individuals or communities to change their narrative as it is often out of their control. UAE Nationals have made a huge transition from a male-dominated workforce to that of encouraging women’s entry and success. Hamade (2016) demonstrates the UAE Governments determination to increase the presence of women not only in higher education but also entry to workforce and career progression with a visible number of female ministers in all areas of government. Changing the narrative (Savickas, M.l. (2012)) actually in living memory not decades and within the family units, visually as well as numerically within UAE. But to date as Hamade (2016) states there is very little research on the matter of gender and work-life balance available for the workforce trends in UAE. Bluestein’s (2011) work on the psychology of the working framework applied here would be valuable and very interesting, by and large when we look towards the initiatives and public policy implementations for career workers in the schools and then the universities. Particularly with unemployed graduates or graduates who have entered the field of work only to find that the narrative they wrote for themselves was not the same as the employers had in mind. Savickas (2012) will bring us around to a different direction and approach where we will need to be evaluating our jobs and careers and whether we need to develop our untapped potential and rewrite the narrative post-COVID-19.  Organization’s and employers will need to think about developing the talent within and perhaps redeploying employees as they are already loyal to the organizational culture and invested in the company’s longevity.


The following are the areas that stand out as relevant for future practice, distinctly in light of the ongoing COVID-19 challenge. Nothing will be the same as before and an innovative approach where everyone will be writing the new narrative is and will be the new normal or new track.

  1. Graduate Alumni that are yet to source employment is a huge challenge principally with the Dubai Government strategy for Emiratisation with determined support and insistence from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). Hamade. (2016) Emiratisation is a national government strategy in the UAE with the explicit intention of reducing reliance on expatriate labour; encouraging Nationals to enter the workforce in the private sector not only the public. When we consider Savickas (2012) and write the narrative for self, there is a strong connection to nation and contributions. As is demonstrated with the recent space mission and UAE’s first astronaut in space, national pride is interwoven with that of the individual and also the expatriate community.
  • E-learning and the self-directed /managed timelines  during the COVID-19 situation

E-learning is the backbone of the Sheik Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum; Hamdan bin Mohamed Smart University (2002, HBMSU) in the Emirate of Dubai, they have taken a very proactive role and are well placed, experienced and knowledgeable in the matter of online learning. They have provided free online certification courses to trainers/teachers in both the public and private sector to facilitate and nurture continuing learning. There have to date been two courses one for tutors and the second for designing online learning materials with an introduction to two particular classrooms, that of moodle cloud and google classrooms. Many schools have had crash courses for their employees in online learning which has meant a steep learning curve, particularly for the teaching staff. University faculty within UAE have been working with online components to the academic year for more than a decade along with laptops in the classrooms (Zayed University (1998) and Khalifa University (2007))

The government has been hugely supportive as education is considered critical to UAE right from the establishment of the federation. HH Sheik Zayed considered the education of the UAE people as the very foundation for moving the UAE forward to be a key player on the world stage. And his vision has indeed come to pass and is playing out in 2020.

  • Public Policy implementation plus Emiratisation and the impact on schools in the first instance must be implemented as with COVID-19 we have seen with our own eyes how important it is to have visionary leaders and most of all versatile people who can adapt to the new scenario before us. Public Policy is also of vital importance and directly linked to HR practice. (Dubai Government, Education Strategy. (2005)) Employees will be required to adapt and develop core skills and competencies to be deployed into alternative roles when exceptional circumstances require so.

Additionally investigating Blustein (2011) with the UAE’S historical and conceptual patterns of working to provide an ideally more inclusive functional vision for the career work. Once the public policy is mandated and audited it will be possible to inform career-related activities to enhance and ensure they are effective.

  • Enterprise and Entrepreneurship

Investing in the opportunities of being an international academic institution with the Institute of Enterprise and Entrepreneurship (IOEE) Women, education and youth participation are all parts of the UAE diversification of the workforce and especially now employees and employers must be both innovative and creative in their approach to employment and earning a wage.

Going forwards the theories discussed will all continue to play a part in the Career Development strategy and public policy of UAE and what an exciting journey that will be.


The views expressed are my own based on my experiences and time spent in the UAE and in no way can they be considered to represent that of the UAE Government, they have been discussed and shared with national friends,  colleagues, academics and teachers plus business people who have been hugely supportive of this paper. As stated before the UAE is some forty-eight years old and much of the research we have available does not reflect the development of UAE. There will be more empirical evidence based on the MENA region going forward which will be hugely important, so rather than trying to fit with western concepts that in no way can be mapped on or tailored to fit it will be local and empirical.


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