HR Postcard from Dubai, United Arab Emirates


The Next Step -  latest HR postcard is from Robert Parovel, Director of Human Resources at GCC Services, a wholly integrated remote site services company, offering construction, food service and a comprehensive range of camp services. Headquartered in Dubai UAE, the business operates in 12 diverse geographical locations around the world.
Robert is a HR Executive with extensive experience in leading global teams and setting up of HR functions for organisations that are growing or experiencing substantial change.
We are thankful to Robert for generously donating the time to converse with us about his personal experience of HR across his established career in foreign markets.

What are the challenges of the business environment you are operating in?

“In our Industry, it’s very competitive. With Dubai hosting the World Expo in 2020, there’s a new development being built called Dubai South and we were fortunate to win a contract for catering services. Over 60 tenders were submitted for this bid!
“Dubai has had a few tough years recently. However there seems to be a renewed energy and things are getting exciting again, driven by major events like the 2020 expo, which is just around the corner. There’s a lot more development going on, which is leading to new opportunities and things are picking up”. 
“Dubai is such a central hub in location to Europe, Africa and Asia, that it attracts a lot of investment. The local Government, headed by HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Ruler of the Emirate of Dubai, is a great advocate in encouraging global organisations to set up in Dubai”.

What are your key observations on the HR trends playing out in the market?

“It’s fascinating here in Dubai, I would say the most notable trends involve internationalisation and globalisation of HR.  With 85% of the population being expats and representing over 200 nationalities in Dubai, the locals are actually the minority”.
“The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) recently released the results of a study that showed the UAE is an emerging HR Hub. A major part of this is because it’s leading in internationalisation and HR mobility”.
“I’ve observed that attracting and developing human capital is challenging because Dubai isn’t for everyone. It has a specific way of life and culture, not to mention that right now it’s 9.05am and the outside temperature is already 38 degrees!”
“To escape the extreme heat a lot of the European’s go home for the northern hemisphere summer holidays. However, it’s winter in Australia and that’s difficult for many as it’s not holiday season and therefore not practical to go back home. So, we have to consider the employee experience by allowing talent to do things differently. For example, one of my colleagues who is from Perth, is going home to work remotely for the next 3 months to truly enable a work life balance”. 

What are some of the differences in the HR landscape offshore when comparing to Australia?

“There’s two big differences that stand out for me”:
  1. “Because it’s considered an emerging sector, compared to the bigger HR markets such as the US, UK and Australia, Companies in Dubai are still learning about all the aspects of HR and this means that HR can tend to be more transactional as opposed to transformational. Part of this is driven by the high levels of transient expats, along with difficult visa issues, settling families into the way of life and acclimatising”.
  2. “Dubai’s central location also enables thinking to be more global. I recently conducted an interview where the candidate described themselves as a global citizen, meaning they think globally and are more exposed to new cultures and work practices”. 
“Work life balance is a big deal here, it’s a harsh environment to live in. We are in the desert and it’s a modern city with little greenery, so small things like flexible work hours are encouraged and make a big difference. The pace of technology in Dubai is really fast, there’s so much exposure to innovation such as AI and VR in HR that we’re already well on the journey with technology and not at the beginning of it”.

What you have benefited from as a HR professional in stepping out of an Australian only role and into foreign markets?

“Living in Dubai has given me the opportunity to travel to places I never would have imagined. I’ve been fortunate to travel to Sudan, Uganda, Cyprus and Kuwait and I don’t think this would have happened if I had stayed in Sydney”.  
“I was also privileged to attend one Europe’s leading business schools, SDA Boconni School of Management, in Milan, where I completed the Global Leaders program. This probably wouldn’t have happened if I had stayed at home”.
These types of opportunities have given me exposure not only to other cultures but also to international affairs and practices.

What advice would you offer to HR professionals seeking to go to Dubai?

“Go for it, for me it’s been enlightening. I’m coming up to 3 years away and I’m still learning something new everyday. You do need to be brave and put yourself out there, especially in Dubai. If you get an opportunity to come here, I would highly recommend networking to help with meeting new people. Groups like the Australian Business Council of Dubai and The Human Resources Forum (THRF), the local version of AHRI, have been excellent avenues for me.”
“Just embrace it. It teaches you acceptance and tolerance.  For most expats though, Dubai is a fixed term place, few make it a permanent home so plan for a two to five year journey. Although I do have colleagues who have in excess of 12 years residency.
“And for those back home looking for talent, here’s my tip. The Middle East is a great place to search for talent as sooner or later the ex-pats are looking to move back home”.

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