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Sun 1 Apr 2007 02:53 PM

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Higher learning

A new skills based training academy in Dubai is an illustration of the emphasis the sea freight and wider logistics industry best performers are now placing on human development. GAC Corporate Academy general manager, Damien O'Donoghue talks about the hopes and aspirations he has for the project.

What was your background prior to the academy?

I was responsible for a group-wide organisational change and development programme called XciteU, focusing on customer relationship management and customer service excellence as part of the GAC group's Vision X global reach strategic plan. This gave rise to some interesting opportunities for the GAC group to explore as part of its human capital strategy. One element involved a structured research study culminating in the group's decision to invest in a feasibility study and business plan to evaluate GAC Corporate Academy. My most recent job was to project manage this process. Prior to this, I have had senior line management responsibilities in the GAC's logistics businesses in the Middle East and Asia for almost a decade.

How and why did you decide upon Dubai as the location for the Corporate Academy?

GAC Corporate Academy (GCA) is a group-wide initiative, so it makes sense that the core team is located in Dubai where our corporate head office is located. That said, the reach of our academy is global, we can offer our courses to all group companies throughout the world. Even though Dubai is not the cheapest place to be, it's important that we are established close to the strategic decision makers to ensure that the academy is closely aligned with the overall direction of the GAC group.

What sorts of benefit does GAC expect to gain through the academy?

Customer focus and human resource development are both identified strategic objectives as part of Vision X - Global Reach. Therefore, the academy has been designed with the end customer in mind, to ensure that all GAC personnel are skilled and knowledgeable about serving customers, and can confidently provide a top class service. As our president says, "We want to be the smartest people in the industry."

Is there any training specific to the marine sector of the business that will be taught through the academy?

Not in the initial phase. The academy will cover generalist professional and leadership development programmes in the initial stages, moving to specialised courses to support our business areas in the future. A diploma of shipping operations will be launched next year.

What incentives are there for staff to participate in the scheme?

The incentives are based on the opportunities provided through lifelong learning. Participants will gain exposure to leading edge knowledge and ideas, and interact with GAC colleagues throughout the world. Tailored learning pathways allow participants to gain specific GAC qualifications, to support their development as they progress through the company. A longer term goal will be to provide a framework to support our global talent strategy.

What has the response been so far?

It's been overwhelmingly positive from all our people, partners and even our customers. The academy is launching over 16 different courses in 2007, and our target is to provide over 1000 places on these various courses. In subsequent years, GCA will increase this capability by 100-200%. Judging by the positive response so far, we are heading in the right direction to meet the educational needs of our people.

In the past, do you think the industry has been slow to nurture talent?

The industry is now becoming recognised as a key enabler of global trade, and many components are coming together to become supply chain solution providers. In the past, the component services were quite separate (trucking, warehousing, freight forwarding, shipping lines), so I would agree these types of organisations have not traditionally been great investors in developing human capital. Over the last decade, smart operators have recognised the synergies that can be offered through integrated supply chain solutions. This requires skilful knowledge and workers who can adapt to the challenges of working in new markets around the globe. With the rapid consolidation in the logistics industry only the smartest will survive. Nurturing talent is therefore a no-brainer for the progressive players in the sea freight and logistics industry.

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