While writing this article local newspapers across the country have been reporting that the UAE has been rated number one globally in 50 indices covering vital community and service sectors, this is according to the Global Competitiveness Index for the year 2017 – 2018.
The country has recently been achieving top rankings in the Arab World in areas such as Ease of Doing Business, Competitiveness, Human Development and Innovation. However, the UAE has made it clear that it has its sights at not only competing regionally but globally across various areas, and especially in the space of Innovation.
But let’s pause and think about this for a minute: “How can we expect to embrace Innovation and aim to compete globally in this space if we are too afraid to step out of our comfort zones, and we fear the unfamiliar. Innovation requires us to enable Creative, Courageous Character of Leadership.”. These were part of my views during a panel discussion in front of a group of local university students and graduates on the topic of predicting how the future would look like in the next 50-100 yrs during the National Science & Innovation Festival in Dubai.
I explained to the audience what I believed is the caliber of talent and business leaders let alone our country, but the world needs today. I had written about this back in 2011 in an article titled ‘Vitamin C for Today’s Leaders’ where I reflected on the lessons of the 2009 global downturn and the failings of some of corporate leaders who were at the helm of their organisations. In the article I prescribed that what desperately need talent that has or can deal with the 5 Cs (Hence the title Vitamin C, cheeky right?). These are:
-Talent is not afraid to step out of their COMFORT zone
-Talent that displays COURAGEOUS leadership
-Talent that is CREATIVE
-Talent that displays CHARACTER of leadership
-Talent that is CONSISTENT in its habits, practices and messaging
I found that these are the skills we need to nurture in our talent so that we enable them to be able to deal with the complex challenges the world is confronted with today, and lead the economy to become more sustainable, competitive and innovative.
First, I would like to wish you all a Happy New Year and I hope your dreams and aspirations are fulfilled in 2017.
I won’t sugar-coat it, 2016 has been without a doubt quite a tough year. Ask a common person in the street about the year, and chances are the answer will start with a deep sigh. Corporate leaders and entrepreneurs alike seem to be entering 2017 just like a
punch-drunk boxer would enter the championship round of a boxing match after being floored several times during the fight. Tired, beaten up, bruised and hopeful the round would turn their way by some lucky punch. In retrospect, the corporate community in the region has every reason to feel that way. Businesses have had to deal with challenges posed by a blend of regional and global economic and Geopolitical uncertainties. While people -or Human Capital as the HR community fondly likes to call them – were confronted with the resulting implications, such as slow creation of jobs, downsizing by some companies in the region, employers holding back salary increases and incentives, mergers, etc.
On a more encouraging note, 2016 has seen a number of growing trends in relation to the human capital practice in the gulf region that should provide reason to be optimistic of what the future holds (Yes, I confess I’m an idealist which makes me a sucker for any signs for optimism).
For example, governments as well as private sector institutions are showing strong interest in ‘enabling entrepreneurship’ and ‘innovation’ as a necessity rather than “things that are nice to show support for” or “give lip service” to. Local university graduates and job-seekers are also demonstrating eagerness to not only become entrepreneurs, but also innovate.
A growing number of employees I have been speaking to who are un-engaged or
demotivated in their workplace are no longer keen to push on with their companies and instead are increasingly taking the ‘leap of faith’ and start their own ventures (also known as the refugee-effect in academic circles).
The public sector in the gulf which had earned a notorious reputation of –in a lot of instances- hiring local and expatriate “dead weight” (Yes, I said it) has become more vigilant and selective about their hiring process as well as who they keep. In fact, the public sectors in countries such as the UAE have been making significant strides in becoming as competitive, lean and innovative as the private sector and at times even more so.
There is an increasing interest in adopting technology across the human resource ecosystem and at every stage of the Human Resource journey in organisations.
Last but not least, the education sector and industry are having a more serious
conversation with each other with the aim of bridging the gap between both sectors. One example of a succesful platform doing this is the Sheraa Entrepreneurship Centre which was launched in 2016 in Sharjah. (see pic inset)
What have you seen as emerging trends in the employment and Human Capital markets in 2016 which can potentially have a positive impact going forward in 2017? I would be interested in hearing your thoughts.
Note: The following link is an interview I had with Abu Dhabi TV last week (It’s in Arabic), where I discuss some of the thoughts and Ideas I shared during the ‘Nationals in the GCC Private Sector Forum’ in Dubai. I had shed light during the forum on some of the interesting programs and solutions I offer employers to help with some of the challenges they face when adopting Nationalisation in their companies. In brief they are:
How we help employers identify and design their own unique Nationalisation Strategy that is long term, inclusive and has buy-in across all levels. Also how we use this to enable the Nationalisation Manager to deliver on their goals.
What is the ‘bottle neck’ standing in front of implementing nationalisation in organisations, and how are we addressing it (hint: It’s the Manager)
How are we looking to answer the age-old popular question posed by many fresh graduates: “How can I be experienced as required by employers, if NO one gives me a chance to gain experience?”
Feel free to drop me a line on LinkedIn or reach out to me on my email: Talib@talibbinhashim.com if you are keen on learning more about what we do.
My interview segment starts at the 32nd minute of the video, so press forward to view it:Click on this link
Last week marked 5 years since we completed one of the most fulfilling recruitment assignments in my 9 years of work in this field. We had been asked to help hire UAE nationals across Dubai Metro’s Green Line which was to be inaugurated by a visit by the Prime Minister of the UAE, and Ruler of Dubai His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid. This would be the first time the Dubai Metro project would be unveiled to the world. I realised after my first meeting that the task at hand was going to be a challenging one. The opening of the Green Line would be in less than 5 months’ time and the company needed to identify, hire, on-board and train up UAE nationals who would man the metro and the various stations by the time Sheikh Mohammed visited to launch the project.
We agreed that failing to hire these nationals on time would leave a bad taste to the launch of a ground-breaking project like Dubai Metro. We worked closely with the employer, and put in a lot of effort and time to eventually gather the first batch for the first Open Day, a group of approximately 120 local job-seekers. Two more batches would follow after that. In the end, after a series of Open days in different locations, presenting to job-seekers, interviewing the interested ones and speaking to parents of some of the younger job-seekers.
The Opening of the Green Line was a success, and it was even better given the fact that across the different stations, young Emirati employees could be seen as Station Agents, Station Masters and Ticket Inspectors among others.
The experience of hiring locals for Dubai Metro was an eye-opener to me personally. It helped me further understand the challenges private sector employers face in attracting and retaining local talent, it also left me with lessons some of which I use as anecdotes today when I talk to employers seeking to hire nationals. However, most importantly to me the experience shattered a number of myths that have been floating in the market when it comes to hiring locals. Here are 3 things I learned hiring locals for Dubai Metro:
Don’t underestimate the importance of your ‘employer brand’
A lot of the multinational employers who come with a strong reputation globally tend to assume that their existing brand is sufficient to woo local job-seekers and as a result put little or negligible effort in communicating what is the distinctive ‘employee experience’ their organisation has to offer and what does their employer brand stand for in the bigger context. For local talent, understanding the company’s ‘employer brand’ and ‘employee experience’ helps them buy into the idea of committing to a career in the organisation. It also provides them with a powerful narrative they can use to deflect family and society pressure to look at a job in the public sector as an alternative. Contrary to common belief local job-seekers can be very pragmatic, outcome-oriented and selective about the career choices they make. In my workshops I teach employers that there are a number of things local talent look for in an employer’s brand. In the case of Dubai Metro, since the employer was in fact a multinational company; we worked on building an emotional link between their careers with the employer and their potential role in being part of building a progressive economy and society.
Dispelling the myth of work and salary expectations’ of local job-seekers.
Whenever I speak about Emiratisation in public forums or behind closed doors, I can’t help but notice employers roll their eyes. It doesn’t take them so much time to jump at me with the “yeah, but we can’t afford the high salaries local job-seekers ask for”, or “we work really long hours, and locals surely wouldn’t accept this”. Granted that yes, high salary expectations and an eagerness to work in the government sector is a challenge when it comes to hiring nationals. However, the biggest injustice we can do is to generalise this perception. During our interviews with the locals applying for work in the metro, we were surprised to find local job-seekers who were earning salaries of 6,000 to 10,000 dirhams in their existing jobs (a far cry from the $7,300 the media had claimed to be the expectation of a university graduate). I often help employers understand that the salary expectations of local talent are really influenced by the law of ‘supply and demand’ of talent in a specific region or industry, the region they are recruiting from them as well as the exact economic scenario at play when an employer is hiring. This is another interesting topic I’ll address in future articles.
Beyond common perceptions, many of the local job-seekers have real stories and struggles.
In my years working with employers, I’ve observed that quite often hiring managers and recruiters tend to ‘pigeon-hole’ local job-seekers as well as employees into a hole that reads “Not interested in hard work, will definitely ask too much for a salary”. However, what employers must do is scratch the surface and try to understand that these are ‘real’ people with their own unique stories, motivations and aspirations which they bring to the table. During one of the Open Days recruiting for the Metro I remember the divorced single mother of five kids, who attended the interview and was honest with us about the reason she had applied for the role, she needed the job to support her children rather than rely on hand-outs. In fact, more than half of those who attended the interviews were Emirati women. There was also the degree holder who had been out of work for two years at least, and shared with me the emotional toll of being unemployed in a society with a lot of expectations. I met a number of job-seekers who drove all the way from places such as Fujairah and Ras Al Khaimah to apply for the jobs, but had no idea how would they work out the shifts. All they wanted was a job that would provide them a decent living and give them the chance to be part of something meaningful.
At times I’m reminded by the important role we all played in changing the lives of this group of enthusiastic locals when I take the metro and one of the locals we helped hire comes to say a quick hello looking sharp dressed in a suit. I couldn’t help but feel proud when one of the Emirati women called me 2 years after she started working for the metro to tell me how she was now in-charge of one of the stations.
If I would sum up all the lessons I learned recruiting locals for this particular project, it would be that as employers, recruiters, line managers and even policy makers we need to bring ourselves to not get caught up in all the simplified stereotypes which surround locals, and seize to perceive them as a number or a percentage on a piece of paper.
I’ll leave you all with some of the statements of the Emiratis who were hired in the metro as reported by local newspaper The National:
Sumaiya Abdul Rahman, 32, a mother of three who has also been employed as a stationmaster, said: “This is my dream job. I am in charge of the whole station and its equipment, and responsible for staff.”
Mohammed Humaid, 34, said he applied because he wanted a new challenge.
“I decided to give the Metro a chance,” said Humaid, 34, who is also a trainee stationmaster. “It’s a new industry in the region and everybody likes to be part of the latest and advanced technology – especially a nerd like me.” Humaid’s wife is expecting next month and he thinks the Metro’s shift work will allow him to help his wife raise their child without the need of maids.
Kawthar Al Kitani, 28, said job satisfaction was far more important to her than salary. “Even though this job pays me a lot less than my previous one and I have a lower position, it doesn’t matter to me,” “What matters to me is that they care for their employees and their career development.” Ms Al Kitani said
This article is dedicated to my friend, partner and Mentor Nathan McCole who worked tirelessly with me to help these UAE nationals pass their interviews and join successfully. Nathan volunteered and asked for no fee to train and prepare groups after groups of candidates for the railway test they would have to sit as part of the hiring process. Sadly, Nathan passed away earlier this year. Rest In Peace.
It was 8.00 am in the morning on a sunny and warm Saturday when a white mini-van stopped next to us. I had been waiting at the bus stop along with my younger cousin Tariq, he was 13 and I was a skinny looking 17 year old. My golden round-rimmed glasses added to my nerdish look, while the ‘Flat-Top’ hair style I sported at the time –For those of you born in the 90s, you are forgiven for not knowing what a Flat Top was – what was my attempt to look cool, or so I believed. The door of the van slid open, a Filipino yelled our names and we jumped in the van in a hurry. This would be both, my-self and Tariq’s first ‘real’ job during summer break before going back to school. It was real, because we actually got paid quite well for it. The pay was 700 Dirhams a month. I was anxious and excited and hardly got any sleep because it was my first summer job.
I realise that many of you had their summer jobs at a much earlier age. I never did. And quite frankly, I never really had to take on any summer jobs before this. We had our parents, my father tried once to get me in a summer camp. I relentlessly refused and argued that I would rather spend it indoors with the rest of the boys playing video games. He yielded. That was then. He had passed away by the end of 1994. This was the summer of 95 and one of my uncles thought a summer job would be a good idea for me to earn some money, gain a bit of experience and most importantly keep me busy after the passing of my father.
The job was in a secluded warehouse in Dubai. We worked from 9 am to 6 pm inside the warehouse along with a small group of talkative and charming workers from Tanzania, Philippines, India and an Arab. We worked, joked a lot and broke bread together trying out food from Philippines (I recall the Lapu Lapu steamed fish and white rice), the Swahili beans and Chapatti and different Indian curries. This wasn’t a buffet, each one of the workers would take turns every day to cook in the warehouse’s kitchen. Most of the days, we would just stay hungry and skip lunch because it was too busy.
Fast forward 2 years later, here I am anxious again ahead of my first day at work. This time more than anxious, I feel extremely uncomfortable. It had been a year since I graduated from school and my search for jobs was not bearing any fruit. So when the opportunity for a short one month stint was offered to me, I accepted it. The only thing was I was going to be part of a staged ‘Magic Show’ which would be followed by a daily raffle draw. It was part of the Dubai Shopping Festival which had just been launched. I would play the role of the ‘Magician’ and Host–Yes, that’s right a Magician- in a crowded yet small Shopping Centre somewhere in Deira Souq. Flanked by 2 young Sri-Lankan ladies who would play the role of my assistants, my job was to entertain, host and convince as many of the audience members to take part of the raffle draw. It took me some time to get out of my shell. It took me a longer time to stop feeling embarrassed of the Shiny Red Waist-Coat and the ridiculous Magician Hat I wore throughout that month. It was only a matter of time till I found myself learning to adopt an ‘alter-ego’ and fit in the role of a loud, charming and funny entertainer. A far cry from the shy, awkward introvert I was. For those of you laughing, I got paid a cool 150 Dirhams a day plus tips for my work. Not bad at the time for a jobless 19 year old.
I would in the future be pushed out of my comfort zone, and thrown in the deep working as a salesman for a Timeshare company. I learnt what it felt like pitching to customers; I learnt how it felt being rejected continuously on every evening and how it frustrated me and my best friend because our salaries would only be paid if we closed a deal. I also learnt how growing a ‘thick-skin’ would help me look past every ‘No’ I get. I experienced what is known as ‘camaraderie’, going through good and bad days with a team despite the fact we came from different cultures. I also had a taste of the the rush of closing a deal, and got to understand what it took to win a customer’s trust.
When I spoke to a large group of school Principles and government education leaders this
week in a 2 day closed event, I warned them that “the most dangerous place for our youth to get used to living, is in their comfort zones”. I emphasized that as Educators, they should try and encourage school students to embrace the joy of exploring new experiences that would contribute towards developing their characters. I believe it is such a momentous loss of opportunity if we allow our youth at a young age to limit their aspirations to settling for what is the norm and the standard, thus settling for a “a life less than what they are capable of living” as the late Nelson Mandela had put it. We tend to forget that everyone we know in who has achieved amazing success our world today has done so stepping out of their comfort zones, and embracing the unknown.
There are consequences for not allowing our youth to experience stepping out of their comfort zones by protecting them or even worse stand in their way by encouraging them to “do what everyone else is and has been doing”. For example, some of these consequences are:
Limits the critical ‘life-skills’ youth can learn and nurture which in turn can help build strong, confident and positive characters
Restricts our youth’s appetite to push the boundaries of their capabilities, and discover their true potential talent
Stands in the way of growing ‘resilient’ individuals
Most dangerous of these consequences, is that it creates a cynical, negative generation that lacks real ambition
Looking back, It’s because of these reasons and what I have personally learned working in an early age and being thrown in the deep is why me and my partners recently launched the ‘UAEtopia Talent Mine Initiative’ and have been having numerous conversations with schools, employers and other public institutions to encourage them to offer youth opportunities to rub shoulders with the real world.
Have you ever had the experience of being stuck for hours in the Transit Area of a busy airport before? Either way, I’m sure you’re not a fan of being stuck in the Transit Area of some airport especially if you’re stuck for more than a couple of hours. (Well, maybe with the exception of a comfortable and luxurious Transit Lounge). Ever wondered why people dread being in the transit area of an airport so much? Maybe it’s because travellers feel pressured to get to their destination as soon as they can. Maybe it’s the awful feeling of being alone and a stranger in a busy and crowded airport. Could it be because most people seem to be not too friendly and have created a sort of bubble around themselves? Do all these sound familiar to you? Here’s a question for you; could your workplace be like a busy airport’s Transit Area like the one I described? Think about it for a moment.
I for one know for a fact that I have seen quite a few Transit Areas within companies. And I am sure that many of you can relate too. How was it working with a team member who seemed to find their comfort working in their own ‘bubble’? How frustrating was it that a department in your company seems to only be comfortable working with “their own”? Ever wondered why your young new joiners seem to lose all the energy they came with when they first joined and now seem to be demoralised? Now imagine instead of being stuck in that dreadful Transit Area in the airport, you were offered to shift to a nice, comfortable and friendly Transit Lounge.
The ‘transit lounge’ mind-set was first coined by Prof. D. Muna in which he warned of the implications such a mentality has on productivity, motivation, retention and employee happiness. The phenomenon is even more common in the GCC region due to the highly diverse workplace and the gap between expat and locals socially.
The Tranzeet (the local pronunciation of transit) Lounge is a place that reflects what I envision how the UAE workplace should look like; a busy airport’s transit lounge full of employees brought together by a clear unifying purpose, employees who feel engaged each, employees who gain an appreciation and understanding of each other’s cultural backgrounds and, most importantly, understand the culture of their local colleagues.
This is not a UAE cultural orientation service, neither is it a workshop about ‘culture’ and ‘diversity’. It’s a platform where issues, challenges and solutions are explored together in a safe environment while participants get the opportunity to learn and work together to put together practical solutions for their workplace’s unique challenges. The process is structured towards helping your employees go beyond perceptions and towards finding creative ways of creating a happy and productive workplace.
If you feel your company can benefit from this program, feel free to drop me an email and schedule an initial meeting to understand better how we can help
“Strangers in a new culture see only what they know.” –Unknown
Success Ingredient #1: Stay Competitive by selecting and enabling the best People to work with
In his book ‘Good to Great’ Author Jim Collins argues that “hiring the best talent” should actually be the first priority business leaders need to focus on when looking to grow their companies, asserting that this should even happen right when the organisation is working on shaping its vision. Collins believes that “Great vision without great people is irrelevant”. Personally, I learned this early during the time I had just set-up my first consultancy practice called Next Level in 2006. I knew that due to the fast growth in the economy, the emergence of a diverse private sector and the growing number of youth population entering the market that being in the ‘people’ business could possibly be a good bet. I just didn’t know what area of the ‘people’s’ business I needed to operate in. I would be lying to you if I claimed that I woke up one day, had an epiphany and knew exactly what areas of business and services I would focus on. I believe that as I employed as well as collaborated with like-minded people in y area this helped me further shape my vision and carve my niche. The type of people I’m alluding to are people who have their ‘finger on the pulse’ and ear in the market. They understand what customers need, have a pretty good idea what should be done to cater to those needs and are skilled in engaging customers effectively.
Why culture does matter when doing business in the UAE
The unique characteristic of the UAE market makes it important for business leaders to have the best relevant feet on the ground first, identifying opportunities and regularly engaging your company’s target audience. Consider the fact that the country is one of the most culturally diverse in the world which often requires a culturally relevant personal approach. I often hear people naively describe the culture in the UAE as a ‘melting pot’, the problem with ‘melting pots’ is that by its design all cultures should ultimately be reflected in one common culture, and that is the culture of the dominant group. The truth is that the culture in the UAE is more of a ‘salad bowl’ (also known as mosaic); cultural groups exist separately maintaining their practices and maybe even institutions. You can see this play out in organisations, in some instances in specific business sectors and even in a single community. What about the Emirati culture? You might ask. Well, the best way I can describe the consolidated efforts by the local community as well as the government to protect and ensure the representation of the Emirati identity and culture across various avenues is that the Emirati culture beyond being one of the ingredients of this ‘salad bowl’ is meant to be the salad ‘dressing’ that covers it all and provides the dish much of its distinctiveness. What I’m trying to convey here is that the mosaic nature of the UAE culture requires companies to select people who have the best cultural fit as well as experience if they are to increase its chances in tapping in to more opportunities available.
Making the case for working with Emiratis
Those who know me and are familiar with my work know that I am a huge advocate of encouraging employers to hire and empower local talent. On one hand, I am a big promoter of ‘meritocracy’ as a culture in the workplace. I believe companies should take on people who can demonstrate clearly talent, ability and value they bring to the business. The truth is that my passion for employing and empowering locals in the UAE, and advocating a principle of ‘hire on merit’ might strike some sceptics as a puzzling paradox due to the wide-spread perception that local talent are generally just not “qualified”, or “motivated enough” or are just “too expensive” to take on. However I believe that it is to the contrary, that the right and empowered–with special emphasis on the word ‘right’- Emirati talent can bring enormous value to your business especially in the long term. This key point brings me to my next ingredient of the recipe for growing a successful business in the UAE which I will share in my next post.