The future of work is national

Written by
Karam Filfilan

22 Nov 2017

22 Nov 2017 • by Karam Filfilan


The UAE has witnessed a dramatic expansion of its healthcare industry over the past four decades. According to the Ministry of Health, on the UAE’s founding in 1971, the country had just seven hospitals and 12 health centres. Today, the Emirates boasts 70 hospitals and more than 150 healthcare centres, with aims to enhance the medical sector further.

Indeed, the Abu Dhabi government’s Economic Vision 2030 cites access to world-class healthcare as a key plank of the Emirate’s future growth, with the attendant job creation a driver of planned diversification away from dependence on the oil sector.

At the heart of the redevelopment sits Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi (CCAD). Situated on Al Maryah Island, the 364-bed facility opened in March 2015, as a partnership between Mubadala and US-based Cleveland Clinic.

Overseeing the hospital’s recruitment and talent management strategy is chief human capital officer Yaser Obaid, who joined in January 2016. An experienced HR professional with more than 18 years’ experience, Obaid’s previous roles have taken in spells at Emirates airline, telecommunications giant du and Zakum Development Company. His priority has been to recruit the right talent into the rapidly expanding facility, while creating a culture aligned to the organisation’s Patients First philosophy (see box, opposite).

“Cleveland Clinic has seen tremendous growth since becoming operational in 2015. Today, we have more than 3,000 employees, or as we call them, caregivers,” says Obaid. 

An international operation

With more than 75 nationalities represented among its employees and 35 languages spoken, CCAD is a truly international operation – and its inclusive culture is something of which Obaid is proud.

“We have a great sense of teamwork and dedication across our organisation. Caregivers have a willingness to bond with colleagues and learn about each other’s cultural backgrounds,” he says.

As a UAE national with experience of working in large international companies, Obaid is well aware of the importance of ensuring the global experience of his employees can be allied to the cultural norms and local heritage of the UAE. To this end, he has introduced cultural awareness workshops for new employees. Called Tawasol (‘connection’ in Arabic), the interactive programme guides employees on how to interact with Emirati patients in a culturally sensitive way – a vital step to meeting the Patients First ethos.

At present, the facility receives between 2,500 and 3,000 calls a day from patients, making 1,600 appointments. Growing provision is a key challenge for CCAD, as well as meeting the needs of a diverse group of customers – the clinic accepted patients from more than 60 nationalities last year.

A strong focus for Obaid and his team has been to grow the organisation’s Emirati base of caregivers. At the start of 2016, just 8.5% of the facility’s team were UAE nationals. Recognising the strategic need to attract more nationals, Obaid charged his talent acquisition and international mobility team with reaching a 15% nationalisation rate in just 12 months.

Following more than 50 assessment days, 2,500 interviews and 40-plus coaching sessions, CCAD onboarded 454 nationals last year, raising the percentage rate to 15.5%.

The scheme was so successful, CCAD won the prestigious Nationalisation Initiative of the Year award at the 2016 Middle East HR Excellence Awards. Despite the awards and meeting a target that many people thought ‘impossible’, Obaid is pushing the bar again in 2017, raising the target to 18%.

“It’s a priority to develop and employ talented UAE national caregivers; they will play a leading role in growing and developing the industry,” he explains.

“This is why we’re collaborating with like-minded organisations such as UAE University, New York University Abu Dhabi, Fatima College of Health Sciences and Khalifa University to educate local talent and build a pipeline of Emirati clinical caregivers.”

Developing the medical profession

The successes of the past year are part of a wider five-year Emiratisation strategy at the clinic, aimed at developing the medical profession in the region.

Alongside partnerships in training with universities, CCAD has dedicated training programmes for graduate nationals who join the organisation as caregivers. Each recruit takes part in a graduate trainee programme, which allows them to rotate talent across departments. They shadow senior colleagues and receive on-the-job coaching and mentoring, gaining a rounded experience before settling into an assigned department.

National recruits receive customised individual development plans, tailored to identify their strengths and areas they can improve on, while Obaid has introduced a Manager’s Fundamentals Programme to help senior colleagues understand how best to develop national talent. 


Changing mindsets

Despite this help, Obaid believes a change in mentality is needed to see more Emiratis succeed in the healthcare sector.

“Our nationals will become leaders of the future when they start to view work beyond the financial aspect and see it as a passion with solid goals,” says Obaid.

“It’s also important that they learn from mistakes. This humbles you and enables you to look at the bigger picture. That way, you become a leader while still being a solid team player.”

Obaid’s own experience as a leader means he’s excited by the wider journey Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi – and the healthcare sector in general – faces.

“I’ve worked on a variety of projects and exciting challenges across several companies which have constantly reminded me that working in HR means that the employees are your greatest asset,” he says. “They must be at the core of everything we do.

“Being able to come into work each day in an environment that feels like a family is quite a blessing for me. I am proud and motivated when I see caregivers of all nationalities connect with the organisation.”