Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Savings and Secure

The school year approachs like a firing squad at dawn.

I work for a foundation year government training program in Abu Dhabi. The salary package is good, the housing allowance is unrealistically low, the students are primarily in my classroom because they do not have the qualifications to get into the national universities.

My official job description is integrated skills computer lab instructor, but essentially and unofficially I'm no more than a student herder. I would add teacher if the majority were teachable but they are not--perhaps through no fault of their own (yet I am amazed at how well they have mastered the many uses of the most complex of mobile phones).

As far as administration is concerned--keep the paper work coming and student reports up to date. Pass or Fail, the students are pushed onward and upward into the technical training department.

Nearly all of the technical work in the Arabian Gulf is related to the oil industry and since these countries first began pumping the stuff from the ground, they have always used an ex-pat workforce from the Sub-continent or Southeast Asia on the rigs.

The fellers who get don't get their hands dirty, the white devil in suits do the necessary paper work and advising to keep the drills drilling and pumps pumping.

Locals have always held some sort of position in the corporate and industrials structures, but they are the minority and the jobs are for the most part "make-work" jobs.

Back story: There was a baby boom in the late 70s and 80s and now the results of this boom is that the babies are at that age where they are in need of work. Each emirate cannot afford to keep inventing jobs for their citizens. Nor can they allow the young men to drive around town all day because drug and alcohol problems are on the rise.

So each emirate is trying to change this with work indigenousation programs and that's where I fit in. The governments hold fast to fantasies of staffing the oil rigs with their own one day.

Before the locals can be trained to work on the rigs or in the offices or learn how to operate weapons systems bought from western devils, they have to have a pretty good command of English since the training is in English.

And each year, the schools must clear the classrooms for the next batch of students headed their way.

Not all locals make the necessary high school scores to get higher free education in the institutes, colleges or universities, so privatized schools of higher ed are springing up like Starbucks.

I had been unhappy with the housing situation. My allowance doesn't cover market prices. I refused to pay out of pocket. So I began to scrounge up an alternative by sending out my C.V. to the private schools and I received a few offers. To complicate matters, I found (after six months of squatting in the company's guest housing) an apartment that will accommodate my wife, the cat zoo and my wife's yappy dog). This suddenly made the job I have now more appealing or just as appealing as the new offers.

I am turning down the offers at the private quote unquote universities for now, and I guess I will be returning to the technical institute this year despite all the pissing and moaning I did last year about how unmotivated and unteachable the students are.

What surprises me most about my decision is the reason I've decided to stay.

Job security.

Here and there I have only just begun to sprout some gray hairs. You'd think I was still young enough to say, "Sod it" where I work and take off for the private universities where the pay is about the same but the hours are university hours--15 contact hours per week instead of 20. They all have sparkling new campuses these private schools with great facades and state-of-the-art equipment. They don't have time clocks to be punched. But they all seem to be desperately trying to fill position vacancies as students will be arriving for initial placement tests in about a week's time.

The decision making process has been agonizing. But then so is aging.

What sort of job security do these new schools offer? A door could be opening for me but I sense that the proverbial tiger is behind the private school route.

My current job is a government job. Here that means do the paper work, clock in, clock out on time, fly below radar and keep putting the cheques in the bank each month. Short of walking into a classroom naked, preaching the gospel while eating a ham sandwich on rye bread baked in Tel Aviv, the government jobs rarely sack you.