How would you assess the growth market prospect of Abu Dhabi compared to Dubai?
HAMISH TYRWHITT The significance of winning the hosting of Expo 2020 generated an enormous amount of construction opportunities both directly and indirectly. This has a knock-on impact on companies, which were finally able to get their heads above water. Arabtec picked-up a good share of the work last year, with the bulk of that being Dubai-centric, as we are working on projects both within the Expo site and associated with Expo, to finish in late 2019 or early 2020. Hosting the Expo is probably one of the most material events that I have seen, which will drive economic growth.
RIAD NASHIF There is definitely a noticeable gap, although it has narrowed. Abu Dhabi is opening up more for the private sector. It has started to adopt legislation to help the private sector succeed and encourage investment. Dubai is still largely driven by private sector investors, including foreign investors. The legislative changes Abu Dhabi has made are still in the early stages, but with the global market becoming active, activity there will accelerate.
What is the importance of innovation and technology, and how do you expect it to impact the engineering services industry?
HT The construction industry is a low-margin business and tends not to reinvest in innovation. Looking at the UAE, we have a relatively low-cost, unskilled, and semi-skilled workforce, which means that companies do not always drive productivity the way they should. I do, however, see that changing. Our duty here, as a contractor, is to deliver on the nation's vision, and a key driver of the UAE's vision is around sustainability and innovation. We are looking at how we can participate in that sincerely, and not by just making noise. We are currently gathering data to measure productivity and make progress on this front. One of the ways I see the construction industry innovating is around BIM and computer-aided engineering with 3D modeling. One of the biggest challenges for the UAE is to ensure that the knowledge and competencies it has invested in remains and is transferred to the nation.
RN We are embarking on a drive of innovation and technology with the objective of increasing efficiency and engaging employees, especially the younger generation. In the engineering, architecture, and technical services industries, there has been little progress of late, and at a global level, these industries lag behind a certain degree. Future success relies on technology and innovation, and AECOM wants to be at the forefront of this movement. Fortunately, when it comes to technology, the Middle East is one of the regions that is more advanced. That said, in our industry, not much has happened by changing mindsets or processes. The way we do our design, management, and so on, is the same as it was 20 years ago. At AECOM, we believe that this will not remain the case for much longer. If we look at other sectors such as communications and manufacturing, they have progressed a lot faster. Our industry is ready for the same jump.
What are the opportunities and challenges you face regarding Emiratization?
HT Human capital represents our major opportunity since, unlike most other industries, we employ people from every profession and sector. My desire for the company is to focus on graduates, and we have an Emiratization plan that focuses on graduate Emiratis, while getting people in at the senior level as well. The challenge is that the public sector remains a more attractive employment destination than the private sector. For us, the challenge is even bigger, since construction is still one of the least popular industries in general. We are focusing on getting people into the industry and convincing them to create a career path with us.
RN It is a challenge for every player in the private sector to attract Emiratis as the private sector does not offer the same benefits and privileges that the public sector does. Nonetheless, AECOM offers many apprenticeships for which we try to attract young Emiratis. We actively participate in university job fairs, engaging with students from the higher colleges of technology, the UAE University, and American University of Sharjah, to name a few. We have also pushed forward with attracting talent through job fairs in the Omani market where we have had a higher rate of success. Furthermore, despite female empowerment being on top of our agenda, we still find it difficult to attract Emirati females and incorporate them in leadership positions. The UAE team comprises 24% women, and our target is to increase that by 10% every year. We also aim to increase women in leadership by 5% YoY.