Knowledge transfer is a key component of the work Thales does in the UAE. What topics and sectors are dominating that knowledge transfer for Thales at the moment?
We have been present in the UAE for many years, and we have been transitioning from pure export mode to a more local mode. We have a few different set-ups including joint ventures and branches as well. One of the most important branches is the CERT Thales Institute (CTI), which is a training center tasked with supporting the more traditional businesses like National Telesystems and Services (NTS), which is there to support our local operation but is not a substitute to transfer knowledge and technology. When it comes to the Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT) and CTI we are working with Deso and the French government. The trainees have a four-step training program, with the first step here with Thales supporting them as we hold the contract. The second part of their training is in France at a French Air Force base, while the third component is at one of the engineering colleges in France. Finally, the trainees come back to the UAE for on-the-job training. This system has been operating since 1999. We have trained a lot of people in warfare, maintenance, operating scanners and other equipment, civil aviation, and other similar fields. In terms of diversification, we are working a lot with the Khalifa Fund for Innovation. We have been working with the fund to enable it to put together what has been signed between Tawazun and Khalifa University, with Khalifa Fund to have this innovation hub. At Thales, we are going to collaborate with them to work on a design center in the spirit of what we have at the Thales University in France, near Paris. That is the kind of diversification we are driving. It is great to put your name on incubators, but the main point for us is to be in a position to identify the SMEs and start-ups we can cooperate with.
Incubating SMEs is part of the Thales portfolio. Do you engage these SMEs as start-ups or offer support and services to growing companies?
As a French operator, Thales has always supported French SMEs. That is part of our DNA and, if we can bring SMEs into our export business, that is also one of our priorities. Of course if you want to be a local operator in other countries it is your duty to work on developing some local SMEs. This makes sense from a technology and financial point of view and is actually what we are aiming at. We have a lot of local applications, for example media content for in-flight entertainment activities, radio communications devices for both civil and military purposes, and flight-testing innovations. Of course, we are not investing in just any kinds of SMEs; that is not the point. This is why we wanted to be present with the Khalifa Fund to identify innovation in the early stages.
Is recruitment of young talent an issue for Thales in the UAE?
We signed an MoU with Khalifa University about six years ago to investigate how we can encourage diversification and attract graduates coming out of university into our local companies for training and internships. One of the issues we have when it comes to recruiting people is that we are at the end of the value chain. Young UAE graduates go to the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) first or to one of the ADNOC-operated companies. After that they might be willing to go to the international operating companies such as Total, followed by local companies, and then companies like Thales. We are very low on their list. This is why if we want to operate on a more local basis we have to find a way to attract and hire young UAE nationals at our companies.