Construction HR; legal, recruitment and training

A three part feature examining the recruitment, training and legal issues relating to construction HR in the region

Re-structured for success

Katie Barker, regional HR manager with one of the world’s largest law firms DLA Piper, advises on how a fully integrated HR department is a key driver for overall success

HR is seen as merely a low priority hiring and firing department,” explains DLA Piper’s Katie Barker, regional HR manager
with the international law firm.

“HR should be part of a business’s marketing and communication strategy and be fully integrated with the activities of a company,” she adds, citing the benefits of such an approach to be improved communication and transparency.

Explaining that a business environment which demands each and every department to be “selling” a company to clients, investors and employees — actual or potential — Barker says a disengaged department will not facilitate the
transparency and communication employees need with their management.

HR management today is more than an internal, behind-the-scenes department; to be truly effective it should be part of a company’s global selling strategy.

“The key difference I have noticed, more so here than anywhere else I have worked, is the transitory environment, created by the expat population,” she says, adding that it is an approach which causes difficulties for companies
expanding into the region.

“The main thing is that whatever we are doing and the advice we give to clients, no matter where you hire your staff from they are all treated fairly.

“We still have this international approach to benefits and entitlements, to contractual issues, and generally the way in which somebody is employed; how they are treated when they are an employee; and how they are treated when they decide no longer to be an employee.

“That is probably a big challenge for some businesses that are maybe only just setting up here, but it’s just a new way of working.”

Naming other unique regional challenges as the limitations in protection compared to the UK’s stringent legislation surrounding issues such as discrimination, Barker advises that local labour laws should be a minimum standard for international business, not a means of shortcut.

Referring again to the firm’s own practices, she says: “At DLA it doesn’t matter if something isn’t specified in the labour, we’re an international business and you have to adhere to that.”

Rumour has it

“The major challenge in this region is separating what is law and what is speculation.

“You will find a senior minister will talk about an issue and that will be reported and perceived by people as being a change in the law,” she continues, referring to the recent “debacle” over end of gratuity pay.

Already one of the most common HR grievances, during a court case in June it was speculated that end of service  payments could be calculated on an entire package – including allowances such as school fees, transport and accommodation.

Continuing to recall how the firm was inundated with calls, Barker says most of the confusion was caused by inaccurate reporting, which made employees think they would be entitled to more than they are; a result she says occurs due to poor communication and transparency.

“If I’m an FD I’m not going to be very happy because I have made all these provisions based on the basic salary and now I
have to make them 40% higher. That’s a huge impact on cash flow.

“It is hard dealing with those kinds of issues, where there is something happening that is as close to people’s hearts. There’s so much speculation that goes on about the labour law and that’s where employers find it very difficult,” she adds, listing other popular grievances, including visas and immigration policies, particularly following recent changes in the UAE.

Referring to DLA’s own in house best practice, Barker says simple steps such as providing annual benefit statements; enhancing leave entitlements; and providing the all important “open door” can help business protect themselves.

Adding that the days of HR managing recruitment, rewards, knowledge and change, are over, she concludes: “HR is not simply a department dealing only with the recruitment and firing of staff, which is then absent from the rest of an employee’s service.

“Our HR department is a huge network of services and as soon as you take it to that level a lot of the confusion and ambiguity automatically disappears.”


Innovating Recruitment

HR specialist Nanette Fairley, explains to The Big Project how firms can recruit in line with their growth strategy and
retain their most valuable assets

“Step one is always identifying what ‘good’ looks like in the job. What are the competencies or criteria that will bring success in the role? It sounds easy but it’s not always,” explains Nanette Fairley, CEO of Innovative HR Solutions (IHS).

Headquartered in Dubai, Fairley founded the company 12 years ago which works in 11 countries across the region.

“We do a thorough job analysis to really identify the things that will differentiate a great performer from an average performer. Then we will support an organisation to identify the best assessment tools to assess those competencies,” she continues to explain.

With the largest team of occupational psychologists in the region, the firm has worked with companies from a range of industries and sectors to aid the recruitment of frontline to management level staff, while also offering psychometric tools, accreditation and diagnostic processes to help organisations appoint the right candidate.

Additionally, the company supports client organisations in meeting nationalisation targets and retaining national staff.
Observing a shift in how organisations recruit and retain staff, Fairley says the economic situation has shifted priorities to focus on succession planning.

“It is something that is really coming to the fore; organisations are giving more structure to their broader talent management processes but also focussing on talent and succession planning, whereas in the past they have had the
economic resources to just throw more people at a problem.”

“Step one is getting the recruitment right and then step two is to make sure you are continually developing successors so it doesn’t impact business continuity if you do happen to lose somebody for any reason,” she advises.

Identify, develop, grow

However, organisations identifying their needs is only half the battle; the development of staff demands tailored programmes for each individual aligned with their existing abilities and the organisations’ needs.

Explaining that companies no longer have the budget to “whitewash” their development strategy, Fairley says the key is personalised programmes delivered in classrooms, through coaching and mentoring, or remotely via e-learning.

“Because the testing techniques provide a very focused diagnostic process -– for example you could go on a communications course, but what you need to develop is your ability to have impact in a group, or give a persuasive presentation – we are able to tailor CPD to the individual’s needs.”

As recruitment inevitably becomes more competitive, techniques such as psychometric assessment will increase in popularity, not only during the appointment of staff, but also in their retention and professional development.

“The methods we use depend on the time, budget and how critical the job is. We use ability tests, which are much more focussed on the specific abilities required for a job, and personality profiles – looking at the type of behaviour
that can be expected from this person and what the job role demands in terms of behaviour,”she states.

“When there is a clear picture of strengths, we can identify the development needs and a personal development plan for the individual, and strategise to play to those strengths more consistently.”


Sculpting talent

Fantini Mosaici’s UN funded training programme gives talented craftsmen in Pakistan a chance to train for work in the UAE

When Italian marble and mosaic  manufacturer Fantini Mosaici was commissioned to supply marble for Abu Dhabi’s Grand Mosque the stone was manufactured in Italy and shipped to the UAE where it was chiselled and chipped on the site of the mosque’s 18,000m2 Sahan.

But when the company was commissioned to supply a project ten times its size, at the Emirates Sunland Palazzo Versace in Dubai, managing director Lorenzo Lotesto opened a regional base in Abu Dhabi.

Retaining the original workshop and staff in Milan, the UAE branch manufactures and supplies marble and mosaic products for a number of boutique and private projects locally. Far from being an international base for operations, the Abu Dhabi base is partly staffed by graduates from a UN financed training programme Lotesto established in Pakistan.

Describing the arrangement as profitable for everyone, Lotesto says he was inspired to launch the programme following trips to the region.

“The second time I visited the area I went to Lahore in Pakistan, which is a very interesting and beautiful city. They extract marble nearby and despite the young people there being very hard working and skilled, there are very few opportunities for them,” he explains.

The initial course is six months, followed  by a week of assessments, during which students are selected to be sent to the UAE to receive further training at the Abu Dhabi workshop. Students who fail the initial test are able to train for another six months, with all students capable of working unsupervised within three years.

The scheme is supported by the municipality and local Chamber of Commerce.

“There is no teacher; they learn with my instruction. I send tools and templates and they just follow the instructions,”
Lotesto says.

“Mosaic is very complicated and in Pakistan there is nobody who knows how to teach the craft, so I prefer the
students train and practice under my instruction, using hammers, cutters and other materials I send, until they reach acertain level and we are able to bring the best students here,” he adds.



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