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Emaar's era of Emiratisation

The property giant, keen to employ UAE nationals, is breaking away from the 'expat only' mould in senior facilities management roles.

ANALYSIS, Human Resource

Emaar. A high profile, well respected property development company now hoping that its commitment to Emiratisation will help play a part in it becoming the market leader in facilities management (FM). First step?

Breaking away from the ‘only employing expatriates for high-level positions� mould and instead, appointing the first senior level national within the FM industry.

Abdulla Al Wahedi is a 30-year-old national from Ras Al Khaimah who last month joined Emaar as the director of facilities management.

After listening to Al Wahedi�s education and background in FM, it�s easy to see why Emaar wanted to employ him. Not only does he fit into the successful Emiratisation program Emaar runs, but this smart, professional, enthusiastic and forward-thinking individual is keen to raise the FM profile within Emaar and further still, in the UAE national community as a whole.

Mariam Al Shamsi, manager for recruitment & national development at Emaar says, “Facilities management is not appealing to a lot of UAE nationals as it�s perceived as low level maintenance. But it�s more than that, maintenance is a mis-representation of what facilities management is and to my knowledge, not one single UAE national is interested in doing maintenance. That�s why the right concept needs to be explained.�

She goes on to say that it was important for Emaar to appoint someone who could relate to the national community as well as have experience in the FM sector.

“People don�t feel comfortable going into zones they haven�t really explored. We wanted someone who could encourage UAE nationals into facilities management. Abdulla is the right candidate and fits both sides – the perfect candidate for the job and also falls into the Emiratisation program.�

Setting the standards

Emiratisation is an initiative the UAE government is developing in mature industries. For example, companies in the banking industry have to employ a minimum percentage of nationals. Companies like Emaar have specialised Emiratisation managers to ensure they abide by government incentives and fill their quota.

“They are trying to encourage Emiratisation to different positions – for example, receptionists, secretaries and HR managers,� says Al Shamsi.

She explains that Emaar wants to lead the way in Emiratisation in the facilities management industry. “We spot the potential and build on it. We have been the lead in putting the real estate out there and we want to lead the Emiratisation within facilities management by actually putting all of our confidence in somebody who can do that.�

The facilities management industry is still relatively new to UAE nationals and with the promise of many buildings being handed over this year and with many more on the horizon, this is an ideal opportunity for companies to buy into Emiratisation and use the time to train, develop and employ UAE nationals.

“FM is the business of tomorrow,� states Al Wahedi. “At the moment we have construction work going on all over Dubai and sooner or later it will stop because we are running out of land.

“After three of four years, all this construction will be finished and somebody will be required to carry out the facilities management and make sure the tenants are happy.

“FM is the business, the coming business. The speed of the projects that are taking place in the UAE is very, very fast, so you can expect lots of problems to happen during and after handover and that�s why facilities management is very important.�

Emaar�s approach to Emiratisation is extremely positive. Back in November 2005, it launched a specially developed program to take care of UAE nationals called Afaq, meaning horizon.

The program aims to channel local people into senior roles with the company to help drive its expansion plans. The program�s aims and objectives are ideal for the ambitious vision Emaar has planned for its facilities management department.

Part of the Afaq program is the management associate program which takes care of recent university graduates. They go through the core competencies which every employee of Emaar is expected to have and the second phase is the core functionality. This is where HR goes back to the department itself and sees what the exact requirements for the job are; this enables HR to organise internal and external training to suit the needs of the job in question.

Al Shamsi explains that the processes, policies and procedures in place for the Emiratisation program initially come from the vision of the chairman, Mohamed Ali Alabbar. But with the growing international interest in the region, there is also a strong need for Emaar to employ international professionals in the company.

“Emaar�s corporate expansion will be led by UAE national business leaders along with the best international talent available. With a management philosophy dedicated to fostering local talent, Emaar already has 20% of UAE nationals among its workforce and we intend to build on this success in the future,� says Alabbar.

First time for everything

But it wasn�t an easy job getting a senior level FM on board. “I was hesitant to join because of the scale of the project. I�m not used to having 16,000 units; I was working with 400-500 but 16,000 at one time? It was difficult to imagine,� explains Al Wahedi.

He confesses he had already signed a contract with a different company when he was offered his current role at Emaar. “I�m not telling a secret here but I rejected the job in the beginning. But Mariam did such a good job convincing me to join the company. She kept telling me I was the right person for the job and that I could do it.

“Finally she was able to get me on board, she really believes in me and I really appreciate that.�

Such perseverance proved to Al Wahedi that Emaar is dedicated to the Emiratisation process and the FM industry. “It shows the company is willing to invest in UAE nationals, which is very good. You do not find this in many organisations, especially in Dubai. It�s a big city and things are going so fast.�

From Emaar�s point of view, Al Shamsi thought the company would be naive to let Al Wahedi slip away.

When they originally started looking to fill the position, Al Shamsi worked her way through the shortlist of UAE nationals who had finished a Masters abroad. “Abdulla was immediately spotted for this role. The fact he had some experience in facilities management and that he did very well in our assessment tests, as well as the panel interview conducted by our executive committee, confirmed we got the right candidate,� she explains.

But as Al Wahedi admits, it�s understandable why FM companies may be sceptical about employing UAE nationals. “The problem here is that some people have an idea that if you have a national, they are lazy, they don�t want to work, they have problems, they want lots of money – but it�s not like this anymore.�

Al Shamsi explains that the country used to have a problem in attracting UAE nationals into the private sector as when they started, whoever went to the private sector was slightly spoiled.

“Now-a-days I don�t think there is space for anybody to just take a back seat, everybody really needs to put all their effort forward to be recognised because yes, we want an element of the workforce to be Emiratised, but at the same time to succeed as a multi-national organisation, we need that mix on board.

So we will have a lot of different nationalities for the simple reason that they will have a different background experience. So in order to survive, they have to work as hard as everybody else does.�

FM as a vision

The enthusiasm of Al Shamsi and Al Wahedi was shared with other facilities management professionals within Emaar. While visiting Emaar, staff were discussing reactive maintenance tasks while they were waiting for the lift, energy management while working in the command control centre and policies and procedures while sat in their offices.

Currently, Emaar works in conjunction with partner company Emrill to deliver FM support. However, developments are now underway to create a stronger internal facilities management team.

“Emrill was the main player in this game (facilities management) and they did a very good job but they need guidance and that�s where we come into the picture,� explains Al Wahedi.

Currently, the FM department in Emaar consists of around 45 staff. Al Wahedi reports to new-comer Mick Dalton, senior director of asset management and is impressed by his vast experience, knowledge and enthusiasm for facilities management.

“I love working with Mick, he�s very nice and has lots of information. I think I will learn a lot from him and we�ll make a great team,� says Al Wahedi.

“We are trying to be proactive and set up detailed handover processes to make sure the tenants feel relaxed and happy.�

Looking ahead, Emaar want to invest more time and money into training national people so they can work within its FM department and is currently researching different ways in which it can train its people by external and internal education. “Part of what we do in training and development is we request a department to suggest a person who can develop a training program specific to that department for recent graduates,� says Al Shamsi.

“One of the ideas that Mick has is to have an internal trainer who will help set policies for the facilities management section and provide internal FM training, aside from the HR training,� echo�s Al Wahedi.

Having gone through the recruitment process and agonising over whether or not he should take the job, when asked if he has any regrets, Al Wahedi says, “No. I�m happy now.�

There are numerous benefits to introducing an Emiratisation program within your FM company. It�s not rocket science to realise that having a member of staff who can speak fluent Arabic will automatically enhance a company�s reputation.

Also, by employing nationals, companies can achieve a cultural status among the local community.

Attracting local staff is a difficult task so a company doing all it can to appeal to the local community will stand out from the crowd. Emiratisation can also help the economy by reducing unemployment and increasing the skill levels of locally employed staff.

Initiatives like the Emirates Nationals Development Program are a great way to recruit national people.

However, it seems until the government put pressure on FM companies to recruit and train more nationals in the FM industry, it is unlikely these initiatives will widen their recruitment sphere.

Abdulla's CV


Abdulla Al Wahedi




30 years


Bachelor in Electrical Engineering and Master�s in Business Administration

Career background:

• Worked for two years with first district cooling company in the UAE, Tabreed

• Worked for five years with Etisalat in the Electro Mechanical Department handling various buildings and developments within and outside the UAE

Most enjoyable thing about FM:

The challenges presented by the job and the variety of issues to attend to on a daily basis

Least enjoyable thing about FM:

Under-performing service partners and unhappy customers

What do you hope to achieve in the next five years?

I want to see Emaar facilities management employing the largest number of young UAE nationals


“FM isn�t appealing to UAE nationals as it�s perceived as low level maintenance�


“FM is the business of tomorrow,� states Al Wahedi


“…maintenance is a mis-representation of what facilities management actually is…�

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