Flying high at Abu Dhabi Airports

Written by
Karam Filfilan

09 Aug 2016

09 Aug 2016 • by Karam Filfilan

Why did you choose to work at Abu Dhabi Airports?

I have worked in HR for 20 years, internationally and locally, in various industries. Prior to joining Abu Dhabi Airports I was head of HR at Etihad, where I developed a passion for the aviation industry. When this role came up the biggest draw was the company’s growth plans, in particular the Midfield Terminal development, and the chance to be part of such an iconic project – it is going to shape not only the skyline of Abu Dhabi but also the future of aviation in the emirate. As an Emirati, I am proud to be playing a part in nurturing the future talent of this sector in my country.

What values, missions and goals does Abu Dhabi Airports have?

With 1,200 employees, the main centre of operations and corporate headquarters is Abu Dhabi International Airport. The company also operates Al Bateen Executive Airport, Al Ain International Airport, Delma Airport and Sir Bani Yas Airport.

We have the important mandate of operating extensive aviation infrastructure across the Emirates including five airports, the region’s leading IATA (International Air Transport Association) and ICAO-authorised training centre, and dedicated business logistics and light industrial parks. Our vision is to be the world’s leading airports group and, in doing so, support the broader economic development of Abu Dhabi. 

We have four core value sets: proactive & ambitious; innovative & pragmatic; focused & accountable; collaborative & responsive. Our mission is to be an efficient organisation with high-performing people.

What challenges do you face and how are you overcoming them?

I want to take HR to the next level, and ensure the department engages effectively with employees. We want them to know we care. An action plan has been developed following our employee engagement survey – Driving Change. The feedback helped us work out what our employees need to feel supported, along with giving us information to ensure they are equipped with skill sets appropriate to their role, and have a clear development path.

How is the HR team set up?

Our department is based on a centre of excellence model. This provides HR expertise in areas such as talent management and organisational development. 

HR business partners are located in each department to support and engage in operations. They are involved with manpower planning, day-to-day operations and employee recognition and performance evaluation.

The HR business partners mean that HR is more visibly available to the business. They are seen as strategic partners who can provide solutions to the company’s different departments in a timely fashion. HR underpins the future of the company.

What objectives do you have for HR in the coming years?

We have two primary aims for the coming year; attract and retain top talent and, in particular, attract and retain UAE talent. We’re expanding constantly, so there is a need to bring in new, high-quality professionals for a variety of roles to maintain our standards of excellence. 

We have an exceptional team and need to properly motivate and incentivise these people so they continue to lend their talent to Abu Dhabi Airports.

What recruitment strategies do you have in place to attract future talent pools?

Our strategy is to drive excellence and be recognised for it. We are increasingly seen as an attractive place to work, where young Emiratis can enjoy rewarding, lengthy careers and become aviation professionals of the future. 

The talent we recruit can aspire to leadership roles by learning from the best people in the industry working for Abu Dhabi Airports. We also participate at careers conferences and forums in the UAE, such as Tawdheef.

Our Al Eqla’a is designed to attract young Emiratis to pursue aviation careers. It’s an apprentice training programme, the first of its type in the region. 

It is delivered over 24 months, focusing on practical experience alongside classroom-based training, and entrants are given an individual development programme. On graduation, students will have the chance to become a full-time employee at Abu Dhabi Airports. By the end of 2015 Al Eqla’a will have enrolled 100 students and next year we hope to have another 100.

How do you measure the success of your campaigns?

In April staff at Abu Dhabi International Airport were voted best airport employees in the Middle East, in the Skytrax survey of air passengers. We have made excellent progress on Emiratisation: in 2011, the proportion of Emiratis working for Abu Dhabi Airports out of total staff was 24%. By the end of 2014, it was 43.5%. We have a target to be 50% Emiratised by the end of 2015.

What trends do you see in the future for the Middle Eastern workforce?

The Middle East has a comparatively young and well-educated workforce. In the short term, I think we’ll see many of the region’s talented young people take on rising amounts of responsibility. At the same time, the region will continue to attract top international talent.

While it’s important to be cognisant of HR best practices, it’s important to remember that best practice is about what fits you and your organisation. It’s good to learn from what other people have done, but be passionate about your own workforce and innovate to suit your own HR needs.

You are custodians of the most valuable assets in your organisation – human capital – and you need the right engagement and training for them to make sure they know they are valued, otherwise the company will not work efficiently and effectively. 

Know every aspect of your business and the people behind each of its components. Take an interest in everything they do, so you understand their aspirations and requirements. 
Look at things from their perspective, be there for them, but also listen to them, as well as encourage and support them.

What motivates you as a leader in the region?

I am motivated as an Emirati woman to help nurture the future workforce of my country in this sector. It is a great responsibility to be part of it. Our late father Sheikh Zayed spared no effort in investing in our welfare and we must do the same for future generations. 

I am passionate about the aviation industry and its role in my country’s future. Those who will lead this industry in the future are today’s young employees, and the ones we have yet to recruit. It is my responsibility to help them become properly equipped for tomorrow’s world.