A Helping Hand

Big Project ME talks to Mark Langley, CEO of the Project Management Institute, about how project management can impact not just the construction industry, but the region’s economy as well

Mark Langley’s primary responsibility is to execute PMI’s strategic plan through the development and implementation of its operating strategies

When you ask a project manager what his job actually entails, he’s likely to tell you that it can be defined as the ‘planning, organisation and control of resources to achieve specific goals.’

This definition is woefully inadequate when one considers that the duties of a project manager onsite can include making sure hundreds of tonnes of building materials and thousands of workers are all managed and controlled throughout the lifecycle of the project.

Therefore, it stands to reason that construction project managers need all the help that they can get when it comes to doing their jobs. Given that the GCC is the most active construction region on the planet, it would not be an over exaggeration to say that ensuring project managers have the best resources and training available to them is a vital component to any successes the regional construction market could hope for.

It is at this point where the Project Management Institute (PMI) steps in to provide assistance to those in need. A not-for-profit membership association for the project management profession, PMI has more than 700,000 members, credential holders and volunteers in 185 countries around the world. In the UAE alone, their membership numbers at 4,400.

The institute’s charter is to advocate project management worldwide, while providing a globally recognised standards and certification programme, extensive academic and market research and professional development opportunities.

Mark Langley is the CEO of PMI, and the lead advocate for the organisation’s global operations. His primary responsibility is to execute PMI’s strategic plan through the development and implementation of its operating strategies.

“One of the ways we highlight the importance and value of project management is to work with private sector organisations, and as importantly, public sector organisations or government, to emphasise the value of formal project management, where government budgets are included or at risk, where there’s some support, either through private public partnerships, sponsorships from the government and so on,” he explains to Big Project ME during an interview at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel, where PMI was hosting its executive council meeting.

“I think a great example was with the RTA for the Dubai Metro project. There we saw strong government support and sponsorship over a project. We work with governments to highlight the need for and the requirements for project management. They in turn require contractors and suppliers for major government projects to have project management in place. We do that globally; we’re starting here and we’ll continue here, but we’re active in the EU, the US, China, India, all around the world,” he adds.

“The second area…since many of these megaprojects are executed and delivered by large construction companies, or EPC companies, we work with them to identify their needs and help them improve their overall maturity of project management, part of which is full time professional project managers, which is again where you’re seeing that demand.”

With EPC companies such as Fluor, CH2M Hill, Larsen and Toubro on its books, Langley points out that the Institute looks to target organisations that do major construction projects across the world, which in turn allows them to utilise the resources that PMI provides. This not only allows for the awareness of project management to be spread, but also encourages good practices, based on standards set out by the Institute itself.

The spread of awareness is something that Langley is acutely conscious of, given that he says that PMI has identified that there would be 1.5 million project management jobs created globally every year, for the next ten years. At the present growth rate of the industry, he worries that there won’t be anyone left to fill this rapidly expanding job market.

“The third area we’re working in is universities. That’s getting project management education into universities early so that that they can see a career path into project management. This is so that the pipeline, to fill the gap, begins in undergraduate education,” he says, adding that PMI has a dedicated academic resource team that works with universities to push through this change.

“We have what’s known as a Global Accreditation Centre. It’s a body within PMI that accredits academic universities, their degree granting programmes and it’s focused on universities that already have curriculum or degree granting programmes.”

“(However) what we (PMI) focus on are those that don’t have degree granting programmes or any curricula at all. So they may not have any course work in project or programme management. We have an academic relations team that works with universities all over the world and we’re coming now to the Gulf, with a particular focus on the UAE, because of the level of activity and the importance it plays as a centre in the region,” Langley explains.

With the UAE and Saudi Arabia forming the Institute’s two largest membership populations in the region in terms of certified professionals and members of PMI, the emphasis given to developing both countries is set to be crucial for the work PMI is doing in the region.

“The same focus we have in the UAE, we have in Saudi Arabia. For example, we’ll be running a series of business roundtables in the region, if not by the end of Q4, then by the end of Q1 2014. One or more will be held in the UAE and one or more will be held in KSA,” Langley says.

“We’ll split our efforts between the two countries. We do have a focus there. We have a very strong chapter in Saudi Arabia, with great support and thousands of members. They also help us carry out the message to companies, because many of them are either employed in private sector companies or are sponsored by the government, and likewise here in the UAE.”

Given that the GCC is one of the fastest growing construction markets in the region, the increase in demand for project managers in the industry should come as no surprise. However, Langley points out that this simply poses new challenges to an industry that has traditionally struggled to meet international standards in construction.

“One of the greatest values that I think PMI brings to the project management profession globally, is what we refer to as a ‘common language’ and framework for project management,” he explains.

“So these global EPC concerns that are coming into the market, they use PMI’s standards and certifications as a framework, so that regardless of where they are conducting projects around the world, they have a common language or framework for project management.”

“They may speak a different native language, but when it comes to project management, they’re using PMI standards and certifications because of the highly ambitious plans and the big goals in the region and what they want, each one and collectively, what they want to accomplish. The prospects for project management are huge and they’re going to continue to grow,” Langley asserts.

“As we mentioned, there’s already a gap, there’s thousands of project oriented jobs being created every year and nobody to fill them. So there’s going to be a demand and therefore the response to that demand is, I think, going to be critical for the region.”

“How is the government going to worry about training and up scaling their citizens to be able to handle these major projects that come down in future, and to be able to create careers in project management?,” he asks.

“It’s not unique, there are the same challenges in Singapore: Australia has some restrictions on immigration and they’re having a hard time finding the specific skills that they need. It’ll be the same for this region, how are they going to reach out? But more importantly, how are they going to know they’re attracting the right people? And that’s where an organisation like PMI can help them.”

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