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Wed 4 Mar 2009 04:00 AM

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Etisalat Academy... The can-do organization

It seems strange that in times of economic downturn, during which companies need the best qualifications to carry on success or to survive, the first thing they think of cutting down on is training. Etisalat looks to do things differently.

It seems strange that in times of economic downturn, during which companies need the best qualifications to carry on success or to survive, the first thing they think of cutting down on is training. Etisalat looks to do things differently.

The Etisalat Academy is positioned in the market to fill in the gap between traditional schooling and  professional life by providing trainingprograms to include Telecom, IT,  Business, HR Consulting and Assessments.

David Brennan, the newly appointed head of the Etisalat Academy answered some of our questions vis a vis the challenges facing the Etisalat Academy and its future strategic plans.

You moved to head up the Etisalat Academy three months ago.  What are your impressions?

Well, I think I'm lucky.

Firstly, the Academy is an outstanding facility that gives us considerable leverage in this market.

No other training provider can offer a 1 million square feet facility with 60 training rooms, three hostels with 260 good quality rooms, an auditorium for 280 people, an on-site mosque, a recreation centre that has everything from a football field to squash courts to men's and ladies' gyms to indoor basketball.

When you consider we also take a monitored quality approach to delivery, it's exciting. It's complete and offers enormous opportunity.

Secondly, being a company in the Etisalat Group gives direct access to 18 countries. Accordingly, we deliver across all markets. This is a strong value proposition for companies wanting a single source provider with extensive reach.

You mentioned opportunity and reach, but isn't the Etisalat Academy just a telecom training company?

That's a common misconception. It's true that no other organisation can match us for technical training - everything from fibre optics to switching and the new playing field of IT based telecommunications. I'm very happy that our brand is unmatched in this arena.

Yet, we do so much more. For example, the Academy offers an extensive business training suite, over 100 titles that cover sales, strategy, accounting, customer service, supervision, and communications. And a number of these courses are certified.

We are exclusive providers of easyLearning, in partnership with Serebra. This is over 2,000 e-learning courses that can be accessed on low-platform computers and are designed for the G77 developing countries.

They are low cost (less than USD $15 each) and bundle into certificates. Graduates can bid for jobs in an online global marketplace, giving developing countries access to untapped opportunities.

The Academy offers also HR assessment service.  We can undertake recruitment or leadership assessments or use a wide range of psychometric tools to support business.

We do this in partnership with world leading providers, together with our own psychological team. Of course, you can also leave the economic turmoil behind and be a member of our recreation centre too.

I realise it is early days for you in this role, but do you have plans for new markets or services?

Absolutely.  In terms of markets, we will continue to enter or consolidate our presence in MENA and Western Asia.  Our task is to leverage our competitive advantage of technical learning into other industries with products and services related to that industry.

However, I see fruitful opportunities for the Academy in South-East Asia and into Eastern Europe.  I'm particularly keen to secure more temperate climates that offset the slower summer months here in the Middle East.

What we offer will also expand.

Half of my career has been spent in Australian Government and I have a global government network. I want that knowledge to benefit this region and its people.

The Academy will offer a suite of government solutions that range from strategic policy development to assessing performance of departments and from leadership development to supporting specific agency work. We can be an effective window into the world for GCC governments.

Executive development will expand.  This will be in two streams. One is purpose-built development opportunities, such as formalised leadership and executive team programs, and facilitation work, particularly around strategy.

The second stream is through key knowledge events, for example, bringing in leading world thinkers.

The Academy can also play a role in national capacity development. We can easily be a conduit for private companies developing UAE Nationals, but also work with Government agencies on effective entry programs and specific leadership skilling.

We're already doing that for Shaja Tanmia and for Abu Dhabi Police. Quality is important for companies, especially in economic downturn.  How do you know what you do is good?

Our vision is public and private organisations not limited by people or skills.

Naturally, quality is a critical part realising our vision. We rigorously use the ISO:9001 Quality Management System. We take it that seriously that we have a dedicated quality department.

We independently monitor every program we deliver and I receive monthly reports on each trainer.

Action is taken if the standard drops. It's that simple. We back this up with ongoing professional development of our people and regular process reengineering to maximise efficiency.

Are you worried about the economic crisis?

Every business leader reflects on the impact of this global slowdown on their organisation, of course.  However, it's important not to talk down the opportunities and be overly pessimistic.

I believe this region will fair better than the rest of the world. As a Group, Etisalat is in an incredibly strong position and will ride out the waves.

Still, you must be worried about training. Isn't that the first thing to be cut?

Sometimes training and development is an early victim of cost-cutting. My view - that's a big mistake and counterintuitive to thriving in downturn.

Lay-offs are now globally common and only increased productivity can fill the vacuum of less people.  Investment in people is the smart move and ensures your greatest asset, your people; provide higher output and discretionary effort.

Economically, increasing GDP is heavily reliant on increasing productivity. Infrastructure investment is only one piece of the puzzle to avoiding recession. The other is investment in people.

Interestingly, a 2007 report into training and business survival found that a higher proportion of business failures were those that did not invest in training. Also, in December last year, a group of eminent UK business, government and union leaders agreed that only investment in people will get them through. This is a strong message.

So if I have a worry, it's that this region falls into the trap of cutting and not spending on learning and development.

How do you think the global crisis will affect the global demand for professionals, which has risen dramatically in the past few years?

Honestly, it may dent it a little, but not change it.  While suffering slowdown (slowing down human resource requirements), established Western economies are also going through the biggest demographic change in history with Baby Boomers retiring.

This will continue to drive the demand for professionals in those countries and still leaves this region to compete for scarce professional resources.  Clearly, investment in people is a key response to grow the skills needed locally.

On that point, if someone wants to come to and invest in their people, what professional qualifications does the Academy offer?

Either directly or through strategic partnerships, we proudly offer certificate and diplomas courses. For example, we have a Certificate in IFRS (International Financial Reporting Standard) and the Diploma coming soon.

Joined with this, we are also an authorised partner for the Certified Management Accountants and Association of Chartered Certified Accountants and their programs.

We've also offered blended MBA programs through Oxford Brooks University in the UK.

Certification is something we will keep expanding for both vocational and academic qualification areas. The bottom line is that we expand based on what our clients and partners say they want.  I like to think we are rigidly flexible!

By the way, how do you cope with delivering in very different markets?  You've been to Qatar, Egypt, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. How do you manage the cultural diversity?

The size and scale of the Academy is a competitive advantage and gives me considerable capacity to purpose-fit a solution to each market.

The Academy's own workforce is diverse and mirrors the markets we serve. I have the luxury of being able to match the right trainer with the right market.  This ensures seamless delivery, cultural sensitivity and effective, quality outcomes.

This is something our clients highly value about us and not something competitors can easily match.

Finally, if we speak again in a year, tell me in one sentence what you hope markets will say about you.

The Etisalat Academy is a can-do organisation, with first-class training and industry knowledge, offering targeted people solutions that deliver results to the bottom line.

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