Why “ization” might just save us

I’ve just returned from a truly memorable week in the Gulf, but not all for the right reasons! Having Oman Air mislay my luggage and then compounding the bad by proceeding to miss my flight home were downsides I could have done without!

It seems that every country in the oil rich Arab states are undergoing a process of “ization”. Specifically: Saudization, Omanization, Qatarization. What is it all about and why does it matter?

Man from Saudi Arabia

Broadly it is the name they are giving to the process of up-skilling their indigenous people. At present, a high percentage of both low-skilled and management jobs in these Middle East countries are held by expatriates. Of course it makes both economic and political sense in terms of inclusivity, sustainability and social responsibility. But it is nothing new. Many of these edicts have been in place since the late 1980s and 90s. Yet perhaps the Arab Spring has necessitated injecting renewed vigour to the rhetoric? Remaining on the political soap-box, I could imagine similar initiatives in the UK being met with derisive cries of far-right incorrectness.

From an external perspective it represents a short-term opportunity of course. They need training and education for their people in abundance. You can think of it as a “train the trainer” type transaction. And they are looking to the western world to provide it.

In time, however, western intervention will be either redundant or significantly reduced. Which begs one question – when the developing world is fully developed, what will their role be in the new global marketplace? Will it be a case of poacher turned gamekeeper?

Perhaps more worryingly, are we truly aware of our increasingly fragile position on the world stage? BRIC is the here and now. In tomorrow’s world there will be more. They’re richer than us now. Soon they will be equally, if not more, skilled.

In my view, there is no sub-text to their hunger for self-improvement. The relationship the UK holds with these countries is strong – particularly in Oman. They simply want to compete as equals and administer themselves professionally, and rightly so.

For me, the real concern is that whilst others are developing, we appear to be stagnating. These countries would be very happy to procure education and training from the UK. However, in the conversations I participated in, there was a sense that the US were perceived as a more credible partner. The UK are more as a sentimental old-friend: great to go for the occasional (non-alcoholic) drink with but not a regular dining companion.

In the UK we have some great business success stories – look no further than Rolls Royce. We have some great innovators – James Dyson. At the micro level, we have millions of people going to work each day and doing the best that they can. But at the macro level, manufacturing is diminishing, our much lauded health service is in turmoil and the bedrock of our former stability, the financial sector, has become loathed and mis-trusted.

To me the main purpose of ization/isation seems to be about “making things better”. With this in mind, maybe it’s time the UK considered devising an ‘isation’ project of its own?

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