x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

How HR departments in Dubai are preparing for Expo 2020 recruitment

The 9th Annual Human Assets Expansion Summit MENA will examine the challenges HR executives are facing in the run up to Expo 2020.

Sophie Le Ray, CEO of Naseba, with some of her call centre staff that are all required to wear three piece suits to work. Antonie Robertson / The National
Sophie Le Ray, CEO of Naseba, with some of her call centre staff that are all required to wear three piece suits to work. Antonie Robertson / The National

Dubai Expo 2020 is set to not only change the visual landscape of the Emirates, but its human resources vista too. More than 275,000 jobs will be created regionally in the next six years to service the event, according to Dubai’s Expo Preparatory Committee. The two-day ninth Annual Human Assets Expansion Summit for the Middle East and North Africa, starting tomorrow at Grosvenor House in Dubai, will provide an opportunity for HR executives to discuss strategies to cope. Here Sophie Le Ray, the chief executive of Naseba, a business facilitation platform for emerging markets and the summit organiser, reveals the local trends in the personnel business.

Did companies learn from the 2008 downturn?

You can see already a bit of fever, but I think local companies have learnt a lot. In terms of corporate governance, family businesses have changed drastically. There used to be a head of the family who made the decisions and that was it. A lot of companies have listed and now have regulated communication. Now you need to have HR policies, benefits, training and personal development for staff – you can’t just use and abuse staff like you could 10 years ago. The Government has put policies in place that are being followed. When a multinational company comes here, it often comes with its own rules in terms of diversity and benefits – the corporate culture. This has an effect on local companies because it’s a free market, so if staff don’t like how they’re treated in a local business they’ll go work for a multinational. So local businesses have had to adjust.

What’s the biggest issue companies operating here face in the run-up to Expo 2020?

To me, this region is a laboratory for everything in terms of HR. It’s unique, because not only do you have the normal HR issues but you have to deal with exponential growth, multiculturalism and a very young workforce. The biggest issue will be how companies retain staff. People are changing jobs because they always think they can get more – the greener grass syndrome is very present, especially in Dubai.

So how do you keep that talent?

That’s a difficult one, especially with Generation Y. Money is a big issue, because the cost of life here has increased hugely recently. People here need to follow the money trail. The HR landscape will have to change for the better to attract and keep the best staff. I’ve seen the changes within my own organisation – the demographic and skills changes, and my change towards that because you can’t act the same way when you don’t have the same people in front of you with the same expectations. The more expatriates come the more talent is accessible, and this will force companies to regulate themselves. Companies can’t abuse talented people too much because those people will just go elsewhere. Regarding working hours, it depends on the culture of the influx in terms of people’s expectations. An American works hard with very few holidays because in the United States that’s how things are. When Americans come here and get 20 days of paid holiday, they can’t believe their luck. But Europeans are more demanding of their work-life balance.

Almost 300,000 expat jobs will be built around Expo 2020 – what will they do when it’s all over?

A lot of them will find other jobs. The end goal of 2020 is to make this country no longer a pit stop, but a place you want to stay and educate your children. There are more freehold properties and I think the visa system will change. This country develops in phases. The first phase was about being an airport hub. Then the UAE became a tourist hub. Then it became a place you could boost your career. People used to come on two-year expat packages. When you come on an expat package, you’re always thinking about when you’re leaving. So you’re not going to invest in the country in the same way. But these are disappearing – now it’s local contracts. I believe Expo 2020 will be another stepping stone into making this country somewhere people want to stay.

What HR policies has your own company put in place to boost staff morale?

We believe in dressing for success. Although my guys are on the phone most of the day, they all wear three-piece suits. My guy is usually about 24 years old and it’s his first job, so he has a confidence issue. Because he talks to chief executives all day he needs to think like a chief executive, so he dresses like a chief executive. We make it a game, with incentives for dressing super-sharp. It’s psychological empowerment. The principle is making them feel comfortable with the task they have to perform.

business@thenational.ae

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