The HR Insider interview is a chance for HR Directors to give their view on the development of the HR function in the region.
In our inaugural interview, we talked to Emma Seymour, currently Vice President of Worker Welfare at Expo 2020. Emma arrived in Dubai 12 years ago, holding HR Directorships in the Construction industry, namely with Al Futtaim Carilion and more recently Al Naboodha Group. In her current role at Expo 2020, she is responsible for driving HR compliance across all Expo 2020 companies. Emma holds a MA Human Resources Management and is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD)
- Describe your career experience in the Middle East region to date and how you got to where you are today?
I came to Dubai in 2008 and took up my first Middle East role as an Employee Relations Specialist working for a JV Construction company. The organization went through several restructuring activities and I was privileged to be included in one of the first leadership development programmes they ran. Over the course of seven and half years my role encompassed regional experience including KSA, Oman and Egypt and we worked on several iconic projects. I progressed to an HR Director role and completed my master’s degree. In 2015 I joined a local family-owned Construction Group that went through an extensive consolidation and transformation restructure. We implemented a new ERP system, enhanced employee terms and conditions and ran several extensive Learning & Development programs and initiatives. In 2018 I joined EXPO 2020 as the VP of Worker Welfare focusing on the assurance of the EXPO 2020 Worker Welfare Policy and Assurance Standards driving through worker welfare improvements across every entity working on the EXPO 2020 site.
- From your experience in various companies here, has HR progressed? If so, in what ways?
The pace of change in the UAE is immense! There has been a real drive for accredited HR Professionals with extensive local experience. HR really focuses on the engagement of employees here and I have seen a real increase in employee development, social activity and employment practices.
- From a regional perspective, what do you think HR needs to focus on going into 2020?
There is an ongoing need for excellent employment practices in the region. Organizations need to understand the fast pacing work environment in the UAE and the recognition now that the shared service model is going out of fashion. As HR Professionals we need to encourage agile, flexible organizations that can respond quickly and are not subject to strict unmovable out of date policies. And flexible working is coming!
- What do you think the Middle East can offer a global HR professional looking to relocate here?
Vast experience in multi-cultural, diverse working environments. Fast paced, challenging projects and the real opportunity to enhance and influence change.
- How would you describe the HR talent pool in the UAE? Is there any areas where HR is lacking in expertise?
Through the CIPD I have met a great number of highly experienced, highly competent HR Professionals. The challenge for HR professionals in the region now is training line managers to embrace new working techniques that are favoured by employees coming to the work environment fresh. Embracing technology, flexible working and the need for life long personal development.
- For graduates looking to enter the HR market here – what should they focus on? (for example, qualifications? Work experience? Internships?)
Finding a mentor is key for fresh graduates. Relationship building is a fundamental requirement for successful HR practitioners so work experience, internships and attendance at HR summit events where you network and meet people is vital.
- What advice would you give a senior HR professional taking their first role in the Middle East?
Establish your own network as soon as possible. Your first three months may find you questioning everything you have ever experienced before, and you need a network to reassure you that you will adjust!