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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 October 2018

Jumeirah shares the secret of its success in attracting Emiratis to work in hospitality 

The company has 338 Emirati employees - making it the biggest employer of UAE nationals in the industry 

Sahar Al Awadhi is Burj Al Arab Jumeirah's first Emirati chef. Satish Kumar for The National 
Sahar Al Awadhi is Burj Al Arab Jumeirah's first Emirati chef. Satish Kumar for The National 

Sahar Al Awadhi is no stranger to hard work.

As Burj Al Arab Jumeirah’s first Emirati chef, she started where everyone else does in the industry — on the bottom rung of the ladder.

“The hospitality industry is cut-throat and it was one of the few industries these days that does not allow you to take shortcuts to the top,” says Ms Al Awadhi.

“You need to put in the hours and you need to work hard. It can get extremely challenging at times, physically and emotionally. Consequently, working your way up is the most rewarding career journey you will experience, you earn a sense of respect with your peers through your work and it will be a reflection of the hard work.”

She is one of about 340 Emirati employees across Jumeirah Group — making it the biggest employer of UAE nationals in the hospitality industry. About a quarter hold top executive positions, including the post of director general.

Ms Al Awadhi, 30, was already senior in her career when she joined Burj Al Arab almost two years ago, having worked her way up through a series of posts in the UAE and France.

Having originally started her career in communications and marketing, the American University of Sharjah graduate just couldn’t shake the feeling that she was in the wrong job. What she actually wanted to be was a chef.

“So I read a lot of books related to the kitchen [cookbooks, chef autobiographies, etc … One of the ones that I highly recommend is Marcus Samuelson’s Yes, Chef; and watched a lot of cooking shows, trying to take in as much as I can.

“I also experimented a lot with different recipes and dishes at home and at the same time I was supplying desserts for my brothers’ restaurant Wild Peeta — our brownies were a huge hit,”

She took it as a sign, and decided to go all in and apply to a few places, and La Serre Bistro & Boulangerie agreed to take her on.

“The head baker and owner, George K Foury, has been working in the industry for over 25 years, 15 of which was as the owner of his own bakery. George and I would start our shift at 3am to make sure all 15-plus types of bread were fresh and available for when the doors opened at 6am,” she says.

“I would take a small breakfast break and get back at it to prepare for lunch and then dinner, often finishing at around 9pm and always putting out fresh bread for the customers for every meal.”

Her role at Jumeirah has allowed her to take on more responsibilities and further her career.

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“I currently oversee all the sections in the department — a la carte, finishing, chocolate room, fruit pantry and bakery — to make sure we are running smoothly for the nine outlets we supply as well as banquet functions, in-room dining and special amenity requests,” she says.

She is the only Emirati in her team, and she looks forward to the day where she has more — but she fears the demands of the job can put many UAE nationals off.

“I find that the most challenging aspect of trying to attract Emirati talent is they seldom want to put in the work it takes to become a chef,” she says.

“You spend most of your time on your feet running around for about 12 to 14 hours a day, if not more, and because you spend so much time working you become emotionally invested.”

However, she points out that Jumeirah offers Emiratis excellent opportunities.

“They are huge supporters of the UAE nationals working in the hospitality industry, are extremely accommodating, helpful, and will make sure you are in the right role and that you are getting as much out of your experience as possible,” she says.

Attracting UAE nationals is something the company works very hard at, whether by attending career fairs or forging partnerships with universities and entities including the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM) and the UAE Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation.

It has also established a National Development Team to see how it could enhance and expand opportunities for nationals.

“Jumeirah is a local brand that reflects the core of the UAE culture — hospitality. It is always appealing to see UAE nationals at guest-facing areas greeting and interacting with our guests from around the globe. All our Emiratis are our brand and UAE culture ambassadors,” says Fatma Taher, national recruitment and development manager, Emiratisation at Jumeirah Group.

The 27-year-old from Dubai says the group attracts Emiratis the same way it attracts all its talent — by showcasing what a good company Jumeirah is to work for, and offering a career path and a bright future.

Fatma Taher, national recruitment and development manager, Emiratisation at Jumeirah Group. Satish Kumar for The National 
Fatma Taher, national recruitment and development manager, Emiratisation at Jumeirah Group. Satish Kumar for The National 

Ahmad Al Harthy, guest services manager for Jumeirah Emirates Towers is a member of the Jumeirah High Potential programme, which has inspired him to continue learning and developing his leadership skills.

“I believe Jumeirah Group is a great place to start a career because Jumeirah takes your development seriously,” he says.

Dina M Bin Masoud, operations manager with Jumeirah Group, says the company has also helped to develop her skills as a leader.

“Jumeirah Group is truly a place to shine,” she says.