x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Professionals seek career change amid downturn

Careers Interest in vocational courses has grown as employees consider more creative ways of earning a living.

Interest in vocational courses has risen to such a degree that Nowshir Engineer, who is the founder of the Events Management Development Institute (EMDI) in Dubai, has added four new classes for this autumn. The increase in demand for places in EMDI, which has focused on media and communications since its opening in 2004, has largely been driven by the effects of the financial crisis. The institute offers diplomas in events management, advertising and public relations, and has now added courses in disc jockeying, radio announcing and even wedding planning.

About 40 per cent of EMDI students come from the property and banking fields, where the bulk of job losses have occurred during the economic downturn. Some had jobs in telecommunications and as cabin crew for airlines, while others are fresh from university and still unsure which career options to pursue. "They are bored of those industries," says Mr Engineer, 30, the head of one of the Middle East's few vocational schools. "They decide they want career shifts and to try their hand at something more creative.

"We are student and industry-driven so the way we run our courses differs from academic institutions. There were so many inquiries that we've actually had to limit the number of students we take in for next semester's batch." Events management is still the school's most popular choice for students. "We don't want to churn out more than 80 event managers in a year but we got more than 500 applications this semester," Mr Engineer says. "People perceive it to be exciting."

The accredited vocational school offers lectures from industry professionals, which can lead to job and internship opportunities after the school year. Most of the school's 180 students are between the ages of 22 and 30 and, as was the case with Mr Engineer when he started the company, are looking for more interesting career options. He had been working in a bank in India for only three months when he decided to forge a career from his passion for events management. Mr Engineer started EMDI with two colleagues in 2002 when he was 23.

Students say vocational courses are attractive because they are usually cheaper and shorter than those at more traditional institutions. Kalyan Chakravarthy used to handle mortgages at the National Bank of Dubai, but he decided to turn his interest for filmmaking and theatre production into his career. "I was already dabbling in the field by working with friends on concerts and product launches, but I wanted to polish my skills and thought EMDI would be perfect for me because the faculty are professionals in the industry," Mr Chakravarthy says.

"I wanted practical applications of knowledge rather than just theory, which I got." The courses, which cost Dh19,500 (US$5,310) and last one academic year, offer a series of guest lectures by industry professionals in the evenings so students can continue to work. The MBA programme at the American University of Dubai typically lasts two years and costs about Dh97,200. After completing the course, Mr Chakravarthy continued working at the bank for another six months before becoming the manager of events at Pure Magic Events and Entertainment in 2007.

"I worked on the Phil Collins concert, put together corporate conferences and organised theme parties. Through the course I was able to make contacts and gain confidence." While the financial crisis has brought EMDI more students, Mr Engineer says these students are having more difficulty finding jobs once they graduate. "Placement is risky if the industry is not hiring," he says. "We're seeing that for this batch. It's by far tougher for students to get jobs. Before I could get 20 jobs with 20 phone calls. Now, I put in 200 phone calls to secure 20 jobs."

Mr Engineer says he is also helping students manage salary expectations. "An events manager could make Dh20,000 entry level before [the crisis]. That's not the case any more." shamdan@thenational.ae