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Sun 19 Oct 2008 04:00 AM

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More than money

The cream of Dubai's HR community met up at the Shangri-La Hotel Dubai to discuss the issues facing the region's hospitality recruitment professi4onals and agreed that retention is about more than just money.

The cream of Dubai's HR community met up at the Shangri-La Hotel Dubai to discuss the issues facing the region's hospitality recruitment professi4onals and agreed that retention is about more than just money.

What originally attracted you to working in HR?

Nawaz Hussain:It is one of the most sociable fields because you get to interact with so many different people from different levels. Also you learn a lot about your associates and the team.

It's important to remember that not all turnover is bad turnover.

Zia Batliwalla:It was quite different for me. Before I got into HR I was working as a training manager and I was having such a tough time, I got really bogged down by the quality of people that came in.

So finally I said enough - instead of feeling frustrated with the people I am training, let me put myself in a position where I can actually make an impact on the kind of people we hire. So that was the driving force for me, trying to make a difference.

Tania Gamage:I was attracted because HR plays a major part in any organisation, which is challenging - especially in the hospitality industry - but I liked that aspect of it. I also enjoy working with people of different nationalities and different cultures and getting to know them better.

What kind of challenges do you face in your role?

Natasha Larkin:At the moment what I'm finding is that the work environment is changing quite a lot - there's the whole Generation X and Generation Y thing coming into the work place, replacing the baby-boomers, so you start to see a shift in working conditions because the staff now are motivated by different things. Now it's more about personal fulfillment.

Maria Elkaer-Hansen:I absolutely agree; I just think being in the Middle East there's a very diverse market and all the generations coming in are looking more at personal fulfillment than the package itself.

There are a great many different nationalities here and their reasons for being in a job are all very different, depending on where they come from geographically.

So it's definitely more challenging in this region as opposed to working in Europe, say, where the majority of people would focus on personal development. Out here you have to balance the needs of associates coming from different areas - some are here for their career, some for the money.

Michelle Telfer:I think the other thing is that in Dubai it's a 24/7 responsibility. In other parts of the world associates would usually work about eight hours a day and the rest of the time they'd be at home doing their own thing. But here we have a lot of responsibility in making sure employees are cared for and nurtured.

Batliwalla:The big issue for me, and I'm sure I'm not alone in this, is retention. The boom that we've had here, with so many new hotels and other companies coming up, means there is big competition for talent. And yes there are a lot of people wanting to come here, but getting quality people and them keeping them - that is a challenge.

Which fields are you currently recruiting for and how are you going about it?

Larkin:We have many key positions available right now - management roles, food and beverage, sales and marketing. We've got some great positions; chief concierge is one, for example. But really it's across the board, all different divisions.

Batliwalla:For us it's a bit of entry level, supervisory and middle management.

Dr Mounir Ichoudane:Our company is a little bit different, as it's more related to mass recruitment.This year we've already done seven openings, so for us it's much more about bulk recruitment rather than when you've got stable properties and are really concentrating on key positions.

Larkin:Sure - we've found that useful as well during peak periods. We've done some recruit drives over the past four months in Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Mauritius and Myanmar, which is actually quite a strong market for us at the moment.

Elkaer-Hansen:We've been looking more or less all over the world; our recruitment strategy is quite aggressive. We are not going into a specific market as such, but we're looking in Europe and Australia due to some specific restaurants that we're going to have, so we're doing a good nationality mix but maybe slightly differently to how it has been seen in Dubai before.

We're finding that with traditional markets like India and China, because their economies are becoming very strong, people don’t want to come over here.

Larkin:I think that's the key; we've got about 32 different nationalities at the hotel and from a staffing point of view it's great, because everyone gets to socialise and mix.

But we're finding that with traditional markets like India and China, because their economies are becoming very strong, people don't want to come over here and staff from those countries are even wanting to move back home, so the recruitment markets are changing.

Telfer:I don't think there are any countries that we wouldn't consider taking people from. I think it's crucial to have a good selection of different nationalities working within a hotel, because they feed off each other in terms of the customer experience and it does make a big difference in terms of customer satisfaction because they see people from all ends of the world, including theirs.

Batliwalla:We have about 33 nationalities working for us now and that maintains the balance of power; your hotel doesn't become filled with one majority, which isn't healthy. You need a broad variety of people to add flavour.

Hussain:Recruitment is rather different for us since our property is alone in the market. We do face challenges to recruit talented professionals, but we have ties with agencies with contacts in various different countries. The challenge is making people aware of our property in such a big market, where so many new hotels are coming up.

Gamage:It is the same for us - and this makes it difficult to find the right person to do the right job. As Natasha said, people from many of the Asian countries want to return home. We did a recruitment tour in Sri Lanka last April and people are now getting the same salaries there as we are offering here, so they don't want to leave their families.

Also there's the problem of salaries: we are four-star deluxe hotel apartments, but we cannot match a five-star hotel's standards.

Larkin:Of course there are different methods for different levels of recruitment. We have our Shangri-La website, which is very good. Another great method is recommendations from people already working here who want to bring their families or friends over.

How do you lure potential employees in; what are the unique selling points of your brand?

Ichoudane:The most important factor is the basically to have good benefits and salaries and to look at the market, so you can place yourself among the leaders in your sector. On top of a competitive wage, people nowadays focus on accommodation, remuneration schemes, benefits - the market over here has become very competitive in these fields, so you've really got to have the right extras to attract people.

Larkin:Shangri-La is very strong on training and development and we support it at all different levels, so we spend a lot of time with each employee discussing their personal and professional ambitions.Then we set out a plan and communicate on a regular basis to ensure they're achieving their goals. We've had a lot of transfers and promotions - probably an average of 130 a year and that's just within our property.

Hussain:I think promoting your staff internally is key. You need to make them aware from the start that they have the option to progress, or move across departments, because that's a big motivator.

Batliwalla:Our property actually has a history of 35 years and we have a lot of loyal staff, so truck-loads of people have moved to different departments. We have former room boys who are now service mangers, people from security who have moved to the kitchen, so that is a trend at Radisson.

You just can't compete with some of the offers going round Dubai at the moment.

In terms of attracting people, we also get a lot who are drawn simply by the brand name; a big draw is being part of a growing company and the opportunities that offers. For us, the main thing is to get people with the right attitude for our brand - people who have growth potential.

Elkaer-Hansen:The brand is of course a big thing for us as well - we're launching a whole new brand with The Address, and I think that's our advantage in the market. It's a unique opportunity.

I think we're all big on training and maintaining a friendly environment in our industry, but it's important that associates actually know the values of the company they're entering. And not just by having done some research or going into a hotel - you have to assess whether the candidate genuinely shares the values of the company.

Telfer:We've got very robust training and development programmes, but we are also looking at Generation Y in terms of how we can encourage them to enjoy the training side of things. People now are not very comfortable sitting in a classroom environment, or having to attend a three-day orientation. So Marriott is looking at different blogs - Bill Marriott himself now has a blog.

We also have a lot of on-line learning available for associates, supervisors and supervisory managers, in terms of their own career planning. So for example if someone wants to be a front office manager in the future, they can go online and find out what skill-set they need to get there and how they can take ownership to actually set that in motion. And when people understand what's available to them they're not so tempted by these offers going around in the market.

Gamage:We recently got a training manager on board; previously we did not have one. So new training modules and development plans are being put into practice to attract people. But as Zia said, it's also about the candidate having the right qualities to grow.

Is the new generation of people coming to Dubai more concerned with salary than a long-term career?

Ichoudane:Well the surge in new properties has changed things. You just can't compete with some of the offers going round Dubai at the moment. You cannot match those salaries.

Larkin:We definitely base our appeal more on the benefits side - finding out what people coming to the country actually want in terms of benefits such as housing, bonuses and incentives. This really adds to the whole package, so our research into this will definitely help us with our short- and long-term retention strategies.

Telfer:It's important to also do salary surveys on a regular basis - at least once every quarter. But sometimes people come in with a ridiculous offer for a ridiculous job position that you know they're not ready for, and you really feel for them. But at the end of the day if they're offered it, and a lot of the time they have families back at home to think of, then we can't stand in the way of that.As more and more people are ‘poached', a lot of them realise afterwards that the grass is not always greener. Unfortunately some people do move and then fail, then find they are working for a company that imposes bans.

So even though you might wish to take them back, the company they've gone to can stop them doing that, which is upsetting for the associate and everyone involved really. But as this becomes more common, people are thinking a lot longer before they actually make a decision to move.

Hussain:At the end of the day though, if someone wants to move or has the opportunity to take up a better position or more money or whatever it is they want, you cannot hold them back.

I've always felt that when people actively start looking for other jobs you can't really fight that.

Batliwalla:I agree - that's why our focus is on retaining key talent. It's only going to get more difficult to recruit. We want to show existing employees that they have a bright future with us, so when a seemingly attractive package comes up they can see that it's not necessarily the best option. Telfer:The thing is that it's not just hotels we're competing with - a lot of people are going to other industries, whether that's travel agents, estate agents, construction companies, airline, retail.

People leaving for other hotels are not the majority at all; you find that a lot of other companies are targeting people from the hospitality sector because they have already have the right attitude and the basic training.

Batliwalla:Yes, because the soft skills are already there. It's a big vacuum for people trained within our industry and I think whichever hotel you work for, we all have a minimum level of training that's very good.

However I've always felt that when people actively start looking for other jobs you can't really fight that.

So we focus on things we can do to ensure people are comfortable in their work environment, happy with their manager and treated well in their role. Then the likelihood of them being swayed by other offers is reduced.

Telfer:I think often, if a manager has good relations with their associate, has done all the touch-points, the reviews, has met them twice a year to go through their career plans and their goals, they kind of already have an idea of who are the ones with itchy feet.

And often the resignations that we do receive are not really a surprise. It's important to remember that not all turnover is bad turnover - sometimes it's very healthy for your business.

And I think that as long as we're doing what we can to retain the right people, and not having a knee-jerk reaction once they resign and saying ‘OK, suddenly you can have another career plan and a promotion', because that's the wrong decision as an HR community.

But I think as long as we have the review processes in place, we should already have an idea of who's ready for the next move.

For most people, they really just want to know what the plan is for them. I think sometimes there are too many conversations with people and you don't really finish it off.

You don't say ‘you want to be a food and beverage supervisor - we see you doing this in six months time'. I think sometimes we forget that last bit, and that's probably the most important bit for them.

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