Business sentiment in the Gulf is improving in line with the broader economic recovery. Dubai’s successful bid to host Expo 2020 – expected to create more than 250,000 new jobs in the emirate – and the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, has boosted investor confidence and left the region in desperate need of qualified executives.
The expected influx of professionals should also drive demand for post-graduate education services, with employers under pressure to acquire and retain top talent. Aligning organisational values, goals and aspirations with those of employees is a key challenge facd by Gulf employers. For an organisation to thrive, employees must feel they are making a contribution to the firm’s success, as well as maintain personal satisfaction in their own roles.
In 2013, a study by workplace coaching consultants Blessing White MENA, found that less than 35 per cent of workers in the GCC were fully engaged with their job roles, placing Gulf states in the bottom three regions surveyed. This shows that despite the recent economic recovery, job satisfaction among workers in the GCC remains below the global average and at a time when companies need loyal top management teams to help achieve their goals.
In response, top international business schools delivering MBA and Executive MBA (EMBA) programmes are often the first port of call for companies looking to hire local expertise or develop and invest in the leadership skills of existing staff.
Gene Crozier, vice president of strategy and director of executive development at Abu Dhabi University Knowledge Group (ADUKG) and executive director of Blessing White MENA, has been training the region’s employees to become better leaders in the workplace for the past nine years.
ADUKG is the commercial arm of Abu Dhabi University, which in its first 18 months of operation saw some 6,000 students sign up to pursue non-degree courses.“The Gulf is a growing market. We see new technologies and new sectors emerging amid a young population with high incomes. Business schools here are thriving whereas in Europe and the US they are struggling to balance the books.”
The infancy of the executive education sector comes with its challenges, however. Crozier points out that management as a qualification is new to the region and the acceptance of the EMBA has only occurred recently because of its introduction by UK business schools.
He also says a lack of bespoke courses and local teaching methods could see some graduates lag their overseas counterparts. “The dated method of delivering information to students, places the region about 10 years behind the rest of the developed world. Blended learning must be introduced. It is by some [business] schools in the region, but not enough.”
Crozier argues that top EMBAs need to deliver cross-cultural, confidence-based training courses in order for organisations to find the perfect leaders. “When local EMBA courses are dominated by US and UK ethos and content, other cultures are left disappointed. This is only one model of leadership and when an individual enters a top-level working environment they encounter different approaches to management.”
Unsurprisingly, regional business schools are quick to dispute this argument. Dr. Ahmad Makki, Canadian University of Dubai’s chair of MBA programmes, argues that its executive education programmes respond to market needs and special attention is given to the level of knowledge, skills and attitudes required to enhance the employability of students. Manchester Business School claims its new part-time Executive MBA programme places emphasis on its global attitude to learning
“We are always looking to innovate to meet the needs of our students and help give them an edge, including from a personal and cultural perspective,” says Manchester Business School Middle East director Randa Bessiso. “International exposure across our global network of centres, including our Middle East centre in Dubai, involves a high degree of personal development and coaching as an integral part of the overall MBA experience.”
Other established business schools in the region are also striving to bridge the cultural divide. London-based Cass Business School equips its students with leadership skills tailored to their own working experience, resulting in an eclectic content mix.
“London is very international and Cass’s Dubai Centre adopts a diverse faculty,” says Ehsan Razavizadeh, Cass Business School’s regional director for MENA, and head of Dubai Centre.
“Content reflects this diversity to include Japanese and US theories, as well as publications from China and the Gulf, and we use case studies from Etisalat, Starbucks and MSN in Africa to name just a few.”
Crozier argues that despite the many different cultures in the region, what drives an executive to aspire to become a leader is essentially the same; the way they are trained is where the challenge lies.
In a region where successful business deals are often linked to long-term professional relationships, business schools need to equip students with the skills to deal with a large variety of nationalities and backgrounds in a personable and respectful manner.
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