Retail is not considered a traditional career option among Emiratis - but the Middle East Council of Shopping Centres (MECSC) is hoping to change that.
The organisation is aiming to attract more UAE nationals into the industry over the next few years.
Here, David Macadam, the new chief executive and vice chairman of the group and the International Council of Shopping Centres for the Mena region, speaks about why and how the MECSC plans to achieve the goal.
Tell me more about the aim.
What we are really looking at is a couple of things. First of all … over 60 per cent of the local Emirati population is under the age of 25 and there is a huge push by the leadership of the country to push the Emiratisation of the local workforce into private sector roles. The shopping centre industry and the retail industry globally represents 10 per cent of the economy and here with the tourism and the shopping centres, we believe that it's even more than that. So there is a great opportunity to start bringing in and inducting in some of the Emirati people who have an interest in shopping centres and what's going on, from a management level. So we are talking about not about working in shops per se but working in the industry, working in the shopping centres at a high level.
But do you not need to start lower down so you understand the machinations of the industry?
Sure. My past and my history for the last 30 years in the business has been in the shopping centre industry and I have mentored and tutored and assisted so many people in the industry. And I think there are so many people like me in the UAE who would be pleased and happy to mentor these people in the business and educate them. They would need to have their primary education behind them or they could be doing it while they are employed in the shopping centre industry. But I think there's a great opportunity for people to bring them along in the industry and I think it's an important time for that.
Do you think retail has an image problem? It is often seen as a lower-paid profession. Is that fair to say?
Maybe if you're a shop assistant, sure. But I am not speaking about shop assistants. I'm speaking of shopping centre specialists, shopping centre managers, shopping centre leasing specialists, shopping centre developers, basically people who are at the leading edge in the creation of the shopping centres, not in the day to day operations of a shop.
Why does the MECSC want more Emiratis to work in the industry?
It's their country and shopping is a huge event. It's a social component of the lifestyle in Dubai. I believe that the Emiratis, if they got involved in the business at a very high level, could create an environment that is even more appealing today than what it is for shopping centres themselves.
Because they understand the culture?
Yes and they are able to adapt the shopping centre and the shopping experience to the local culture.
What proportion of Emiratis would you say there are working in the industry?
I know there are a couple. Majid Al Futtaim and Emaar have a number of high-level Emirati gentlemen and women working in the shopping centre business. These [people] are basically leading the way for the rest of the local Emirati population.
How does your group intend to increase the number of nationals in the industry? What steps are you taking?
I'm not sure if you have heard of a business school called Wharton in Pennsylvania. There is a division, an area in Wharton, that provides courses [on retail]. We provide those at Wharton, so we want to try and set up a university in the UAE that will have the ability to have this division in their business school. We're on initial contacts with a number of universities getting this going. We don't have it done yet, but we are certainly starting to get on the process of setting it up.
What would the courses teach?
The basics of how you put together a shopping centre management [programme], so let's just talk about that for a moment. You would have, for example, anywhere between 200 and 450 retailers or even more. If you are Dubai Mall, for example, you would have 1,200 retailers, which you have to control and manage to make sure that they open on time - that they have the right staffing levels, that they are paying the rent they should be paying, that their sales are what their sales should be in terms of their turnover, their inventory looks fresh all the time, the mall is clean and the security staff is in place, the CCTV cameras are all working, the connections with security are all working. It's complex running a shopping centre and there are so many different variables you have to be aware of to do that, so many different people you have to manage to do that as well.
When do you think that might be set up?
We're working on it now so we would like to see something roll out at the end of this year or early next year. It will be open to everyone, but we believe the greatest opportunities will come for Emiratis because, particularly in the UAE, the shopping centre industry is quite mature and very sophisticated and we just want to make sure the people who are running them have the skill set to take it over.
They say internet shopping is on the rise here. Do you think it poses a threat to shopping malls?
No and I'll tell you why. The first thing here is that in this region, shopping centres offer a more social setting than they do in other corners of the world. So, if you go anywhere in North America, they buy what they buy and then they go away. If you come here, for instance, if you go to Mall of the Emirates with your family, you might want to start with breakfast and then you might want to have your kids go off and do something in the family entertainment centre for a little while on their own or go to the ski slope on their own and then after that the parents can shop or sit and have coffee. Then they get together again and there are also hotels attached to these shopping centres. You have that going on as well. It's all a much different experience here. Is the online shopping going to take away from that? I don't believe so, I think it will probably embellish both because people still want to touch and feel what they're buying. It will probably just make the retailers here up their game to make sure what they're offering is going to be very high quality.
Here in the UAE there are a lot of changes coming up. Dubai is quite stable but in Abu Dhabi things are changing quite a lot. Do you think there are enough people here to support all the shopping centres that are in the pipeline?
Yes I believe there are and I will tell you why. One of the main contributors to the success of the shopping centres regionally and I am talking the UAE right now, is the number of flights that come in. And if you look at the number of new airplanes that both Etihad and Emirates are buying, and air carriers are flying in here on a more regular basis, what's happening is, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, came up with the idea that he wanted to have 20 million visitors coming by 2020 and that means there are a lot more people coming into the region on an annual basis. To put things into context, just so you understand the enormity of the industry already, Dubai Mall has about 180,000 people a day and that translates to 65.7 million a year. That's just one shopping centre. That's more people than come to New York State.
That's Dubai though.
I think Abu Dhabi is coming because … they are building a new airport, they're getting that going. They're getting all kinds of things organised. One of the things when you are dealing with big infrastructure projects is you have got huge responsibilities. These things don't happen overnight, new shopping centres, new road networks, new taxis, the list goes on and is endless in terms of the infrastructure you need to make a tourist-based shopping destination.