x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Emirati women to pilot new Etihad call centre

Eighty women will staff a new call centre for the airline in Al Ain, a city with few job opportunities for women.

Emirati women from Al Ain gather for an orientation session at the Etihad Airways Training Centre in Abu Dhabi yesterday.
Emirati women from Al Ain gather for an orientation session at the Etihad Airways Training Centre in Abu Dhabi yesterday.

AL AIN // Eighty Emirati women will staff a new call centre for Etihad Airways in Al Ain, a city with few job opportunities for women.

The centre will launch in January and operate 12 hours a day, seven days a week. Shifts will be divided to make it easier for the employees to balance work and family duties, officials said. "As the national airline of the UAE we are fully committed to growing our workforce of Emiratis, whilst respecting the culture and ambitions of the country," said James Hogan, Etihad's chief executive officer.

He said this centre is particularly significant because it provides jobs for women in Al Ain, where the market is limited. "Now they have a chance to get out of their homes and build careers," he said. Employees will receive a six-month training programme in customer service, information technology and English. "There are so many computer features that I learned in the IT training that I did not even know existed," said Amal al Shamsi, one of the centre's future staffers.

In addition to the technical skills that she acquired during training, Ms al Shamsi said she also got a boost in self-confidence. "Now I feel that I have more trust in myself, achieve more and face challenges," she said. From a business perspective, the company will benefit because the women are enthusiastic and eager to learn, Mr Hogan said. "As the company continues to grow, the centre will grow as well. We expect the number of employees to double in 24 months, and in a couple of years it will go global," he said, meaning it will handle calls from all over the world.

Additional functions will also be transferred to the Al Ain centre as it grows. Etihad has three other main call centres, one in Abu Dhabi, one in India and one in Australia. Hareb al Muhairy, the vice president of sales for the UAE at Etihad, said the Dh1.9 million the company invested in training the women will have a direct effect on the company's bottom line as the centre is projected to receive 150,000 calls a month.

Having an Emirati customer service staff will boost sales and satisfaction, he said. "The call centre is the first station for the client, so when an Emirati national picks up the phone, he or she knows the needs for the market," Mr al Muhairy said. "If the caller asks, 'Where shall I go - to Turkey or Lebanon?' an Emirati will be able to guide him better since they share the same cultural interests."

The call centre's manager, Samia Barj, said the women will also be trained to run "fun" events. "We have a fun team that will be organising social events - if it is someone's birthday they will organise a celebration; if someone has a crisis we'll be sharing it with them," she said. She said the team changes every few weeks, so all employees will be given a chance to run events. "After a few months, they will be given a chance to get promoted to team leaders, or to more administrative jobs, such as the quality assessment team," she added.

Mervat Hassan, 38, an accounting graduate from UAE University and a mother of five, explained why she welcomed the new roles and responsibilities. "The job is a challenge for us Emiratis," Mrs Hassan said. "It is not the typical type of job that Emirati females usually go for. Talking to others fluently, men and women, that's like breaking rules for us. "Being able to overcome these challenges makes me feel like we're doing something that will make our country proud of us."

hdajani@thenational.ae