Q&A: Janine Bunning: “Dubai is building an HR community”

Author: PM Editorial | Date: 13 Jan 2016

Oakwood International’s managing director on the changing nature of HR training over the last 15 years

Janine BunningThe L&D needs of employees in the GCC are changing fast – but Janine Bunning is confident of staying one step ahead. Before she established training, learning and consultancy business Oakwood International, she was an HR manager in both the private and public sector. She has extensive experience in HR and training strategy and implementation and has delivered CIPD programmes on behalf of Oakwood in the Gulf region, the UK and Bulgaria over the last 15 years. People Management asked her about setting up a business in Dubai and the changing training needs in the region.

What were the challenges of setting up a business in Dubai 15 years ago?
It was a challenge, because it was our first foray into the Middle East market and the accreditation process at that time was quite laborious.
 
More recently, we have just been through an interesting scenario. For about 12 years, we worked with an Emirati partner who sadly passed away just over a year ago. His business closed down and his team was made redundant. But we’d been working with them for 12 years and now all of that team is with Oakwood Dubai. We opened a new office and we now have full Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) approval.
 
How has having a UK and Dubai office helped?
We’ve always had a presence in the UAE, but having the Dubai office is fabulous because now we have a dedicated team and we have chosen to be right in the heart of Dubai in Sheikh Zayed Road, where we’re very accessible.
 
There’s a lot of criticism these days of people who fly in, take the money and fly out again. There’s also a lot of talk about investing in and committing yourself to the people of the country, which I do believe in. We’ve employed 10 people who would have lost their jobs and we’re here for a long time, looking forward to Expo 2020. We have big business plans.
 
How has the training that you offer changed over the last 15 years?
When we first came to Dubai, the most popular training was IT, accountancy and some personal development. HR training was very minimal: it was very much about personnel and very administrative.
 
A big difference between the UK and Dubai was that HR was male-dominated, whereas in the UK it was more female. But in the last few years, Sheikh Mohammed has supported building an HR community, which has grown.
 
There are now many young women entering the profession as the UAE embraces and recognises women in key and senior positions in companies in the UAE, thanks to Sheikh Mohammed's leadership. Plus the ladies we have worked with have been very impressive and career-orientated. There are a lot of professional qualifications now and I think people are quite demanding and fussy, as they should be, about who they go to for them.
 
Is there a shortage of certain skills in Dubai?
I think the HR and management communities still have a way to go. Many people have fancy titles, but they’re still quite administrative. Organisations here have very tall hierarchies, not a flat structure, so there are many managers and supervisors and many job titles. The training budgets are high so people have had a lot of money spent on them and got a lot of qualifications and want promotions. But it’s still a fact of life that you need to have some experience on the job before you can say you are experienced.
 
Do you see any emerging trends in HR training?
HR is at a crossroads. For years, it has been looking after the policies and procedures and acting as ‘policemen to the business’. HR needs to become more assertive. Recruit personnel who have professional qualifications in HR, who understand effective performance management, efficient employee engagement and introduce cross-posting to ensure HR understands the finance and line management part of the business.
 
We have an assignment that requires students to explain the nature and value of their induction programme – this is by far the assignment that gets the poorest marks, as so many students have had little or no induction themselves. The big challenge here is for HR managers here to understand that they are not in opposition to line managers but one of them.