What are the needs of a regional HR institute?
The Middle East is a vast region with a wide range of resources. We are a champion of economic growth and most of this progress has taken place over a short period of time. This means there are challenges and opportunities for businesses and their HR functions here. Most of us are aware of HR departments but few people realise how powerful they can be to help businesses flourish even further.
This is why we need an institute like ASHRM, which is specifically focused on the Arabic world and its unique HR challenges and opportunities. We need a professional organisation where HR leaders can develop new skills and implement dynamic new ideas in their businesses. We also need a forum where we can discuss issues that concern us most and try to come up with new solutions to drive the region forward. I hope ASHRM strives in the next few years to become the best-regarded and most influential HR institution in the world.
What are the major challenges faced by HR functions operating in the Middle East region?
HR departments in the Middle East are facing a wide range of challenges in 2014. The biggest issue that is common for HR professionals across the region is the issue of nationalisation. The recruitment of our own young nationals into significant roles is a worthy and justified goal.
It does, however, present its own unique set of challenges, mainly in ensuring that we recruit the right nationals to fill the ever more demanding roles we have in such a dynamic region. Young people must take their education seriously and be motivated to gain as much work experience as possible because, without this, they will risk losing out to a better candidate.
How can HR make an impact on education and skills training?
In our own organisations, we can offer high-quality internships to talented young nationals to harness and develop their potential further. Internships give young people confidence and the opportunity to make a real difference – it is this and an ongoing investment in training that will transform them into the dynamic leaders of the future.
How progressive do you view the region to be when it comes to HR practice – what areas are developing well and what ones need to move forward?
In other regions of the world, it is recognised that a brilliant HR department is vital to the success of the business. Technologies and assets can be bought and sold, but it is not always possible to source the right talent. In the Middle East, some organisations recognise the value of HR, but more companies need to view it as more than just a ‘hiring and firing’ department. This is where we need to challenge people’s stereotypical and old-fashioned beliefs to drive change. Having a well-functioning HR department is vital to the success – or failure – of your business, and we need everyone to recognise that.
There are areas where the region has made huge improvements. Many global organisations have a diverse workforce made up of many different nationalities, cultures and age groups. Being able to unite all these different employees together to work for the good of one organisation is not always easy, but everywhere I look now I see that many companies with a diverse workforce have united them effectively and are excelling in their business goals. This is something that our region should be proud of – we can work effectively with others to build successful businesses.
With youth unemployment so high, is the Middle East region suffering from a ‘future talent’ crisis?
Not at all. I don’t see a crisis – I see opportunity. The youth population in the Middle East is the largest in the world, and this presents a unique opportunity for employers to benefit from young energy and talent. In fact, I see many talented young people working around me, and in other organisations, every day at the moment.
We are at the crossroads of a new era for young people – the growth in technology and smartphones is giving them access to self-learning and being able to solve problems using their own initiative. I think it’s just a matter of large companies investing in training and development for young nationals to better prepare them for the high-level jobs they are looking for.
Do you believe there is a ‘disconnect’ between nationals who study overseas and those educated at home?
Definitely. Nationals who study abroad become familiar with Western culture and practices. This in itself is not always ‘better’ but within those Western practices lies a strong desire to make an impact at work as soon as you start a job and a hunger to work your way up the career ladder.
Our young nationals studying abroad are surrounded by a competitive environment that encourages innovation and breeds success. Young nationals educated locally can still look for opportunities abroad in their jobs if they did not have the chance to study; for example with overseas assignments or internships. These fill a gap if they are unable to study overseas.
Working and studying abroad gives our young nationals a ‘global perspective’, something that will boost their ability to do business internationally.
The Middle East is one of the biggest exporting regions in the world so we need young people who can really connect with business leaders from the US, Europe, China and others. Without this shared understanding, the Middle East risks falling behind.
What would you like to see in the future when it comes to youth employment?
I would like to see major organisations in the region have fully developed training and development programmes for young nationals that begin early, ideally while they are studying at school. By equipping our young people with the right skills for high-level jobs at an early stage, we will give them the best potential for a successful future.
Through this process we can also identify which young people have the ability to become future businessmen and women and harness their entrepreneurial potential – and by doing this we can enrich our continent with even more worthwhile employment opportunities.
Fundamentally, we need more young people to look beyond the opportunities that already exist and to build new ones for themselves and others. As US President John F Kennedy said: “Ask not what your country can do for you – but what you can do for your country."