x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

ESI moves to train Emirati workforce

The company is investing millions of dirhams in creating new degree programmes and sending students abroad.

As Emirates Steel Industries (ESI) commissions the country's first integrated steel plant and lays out expansion plans, it is racing ahead to raise production of another commodity important to the economy: skilled Emirati workers. The company is investing millions of dirhams in creating new degree programmes and sending students abroad to develop a reliable national steel workforce.

The new workers are badly needed as ESI pursues a strategy to triple steel output to 6.5 million tonnes in five years in a bid to become a leader in the region's steel industry. "In this rapidly growing industrial sector it is vital that young UAE nationals have the opportunity to develop their technical expertise in industrial engineering and management and operation of production lines," Hussain al Nowais, the ESI chairman, this month told graduates of a training programme the company sponsors.

The investments are important to the strategy of ESI, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Government's Abu Dhabi Basic Industries Corporation and one of the few large-scale industrial projects to be completely owned by Emirati companies. Experts say nationalisation of the industrial workforce in Abu Dhabi, where the Government collects no taxes from industry, is the sole means for society to derive lasting benefits from huge investments in new plants.

But with a relatively small pool of Emiratis to draw from, ESI has had to compete with the oil and gas industry to woo young nationals, said Mahmood al Hameli, an assistant vice president who runs Emirati recruitment. "UAE nationals weren't really aware of the steel business," he said. ESI now has 133 Emiratis in its permanent workforce, about 15 per cent, which it is "on track" to increase to 20 per cent, or 183 workers, according to Mr al Hameli. Five of the eight top managers in the company are also Emirati.

The company has linked up the Petroleum Institute and the Higher Colleges of Technology to create degree programmes for engineers and technicians. Ten students are studying metal science and engineering at the Petroleum Institute and will graduate in 2012 and 2013, while 52 students are enrolled in the Higher Colleges of Technology and will graduate next year and in 2011 as certified steel technicians, Mr al Hameli said.

The company spent more than Dh2 million (US$545,000) on sponsoring these students, plus the cost of hiring the faculty and developing a curriculum. ESI also has a programme to send graduates to Italy and Mexico to train in plants that use the same technology as those at Musaffah. cstanton@thenational.ae