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Mon 1 Mar 2004 04:00 AM

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Academy widens its training client base

Promising growth rates and a requirement for its state-of-the-art facilities is generating new revenues for the Etisalat Academy.

|~|fares_M.jpg|~|The Etisalat Academy is becoming an increasingly important training hub, says Dr Doaa Fares. |~|Fast approaching its fourth year of operations, the Etisalat Academy has evolved from its original role as a provider of training to UAE telecom engineers to become a major centre for training solutions and consultancy in the Middle East.

The academy now provides services to a raft of corporations around the region, develops its own courses and organises international conferences on everything from human resources technology to interactive television.

Recently released figures show that more than 18,000 people were trained at Etisalat’s headquarters in 2003 over 85,000 training days. The academy’s facilities span one million square feet and include three hotels, two libraries, more than 60 classrooms, language centres and network labs. Recently, in a bid to improve profitability, the academy has thrown open its doors to regional companies with no training resources of their own.

As well as technical and engineering training, the academy now offers non-technical training in subjects like English, maths and accounting.

Staff from companies like Dubai Aluminium (Dubal), the Abu Dhabi Distribution Company (ADDC) and the Al-Ain Distribution Company (AADC) now undergo training at the Dubai-based centre. The academy is in the process of signing up yet more corporates from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar and even Sudan and Yemen.

“When we started, we were not expecting to be used by major corporations keen to outsource their training. Nowadays we have around six contracts with large corporations and deliverables are expanding very fast,” says Dr Doaa Ahmed Fares, the academy’s general manager.

The academy intends to leverage its position in the region and its Dhs40 million annual support budget from UAE telecoms operator Etisalat to expand its operations. Fares believes very few companies will be able to compete with the facilities and expertise offered at the academy.

“Training and development has become a vital and crucial issue, but at the same time it has become very expensive,” he explains.

“For any company to go into training and education [and rival the academy] they first need to build a big facility for training and development, recruit 130 people, establish three hotels, laboratories and two big libraries. They will think twice before doing that if they can use ours. Ours is available, we can provide exceptional training services and we can arrange conferences and seminars inside the academy or outside, even overseas,” he says.

To date, the academy has achieved between 15% and 20% growth rates per annum in terms of the number of people trained since its inception in April 2000. Although nearing 100% capacity, Dr Fares believes these growth rates can be sustained as the organisation is opened up to other companies looking to outsource their training requirements.

Despite these growth rates, new revenues for the academy must be found if it is to break even and achieve financially independent status. As it seeks to achieve this aim, the academy will face intense competition from the large number of both classroom-based and e-learning training providers that have sprung up around the region.

E-learning in particular threatens to undercut the resource-intensive academy in terms of pricing. But the academy, which has also developed a comprehensive array of e-learning courses, remains convinced that the internet-based training model can only ever be a supplement to quality classroom-based teaching.

“We have a big plans for e-learning and we have started the deployment of e-learning,” says Fares. “But all our studies, all our analysis of the sector, show that while e-learning is good support, reduces the costs of some training and helps people gain more knowledge, it will never replace classroom training, it is always going to be a complementary function,” he argues. ||**||

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