NTI BizPro Awards is now into its seventh year. The awards, the first-of-its-kind in Oman, have the sole purpose of motivating and encouraging the ground-breaking achievements of young Omani business professionals who will be tomorrow’s leaders. This year, the awards have been re-christened as Business Professional of the Year. Excerpts from an interview with Lawrence Alva, CEO, NTI
Generally, how is the training environment changing in the country and the demand?
The level of education is going up in the country. In the last 15 years (from the mid 90s), we have witnessed a number of colleges being set up and everyone aspires to get a college degree.
But that was not the case earlier. In the 90s and late 80s, after secondary school, one would opt to come to Muscat and look for a job. And then vocational schools were the only route for the jobs and mostly entry level jobs were available for secondary school leavers. You trained yourself to be an accountant, a secretary or an administrator or a sales person.
Or in the engineering side, you got trained as a welder or a mechanic for an entry level job. If you see the employed people today, most of them are secondary school leavers from the 90s who went through an NTI programme, joined the banks or other organisations and progressed in their careers. Later on, many of them have then completed their degree and masters courses.
Whereas, now the situation has changed. Most of them are joining colleges. We don’t have an issue with that as only our working model changes. Now what is happening is that from the college which gives them an academic qualification, they come to us to learn their work. But the culture in Oman is that people don’t come here by themselves to learn to work. It is their employer, who then sends them back to us for specific job training and development. Therefore the market is still there, and all the more now, as a lot of people have been taken into employment. The more people get into employment, more the opportunity for training because then the employer needs to send them for training. If they are not employed then it is an issue. The more the people, the better it is for us as it expands our business.
What kind of skills are they looking at for in training?
There are soft skills such as management and leadership development on the office side of it. But on the engineering or the technical side, it is slightly different because the major companies like the PDO, BP and Oxy take college graduates and then put them through a two-to-three year apprentice programme. So they contract us to do these kind of one-year intensive training and development programmes followed by one year of on-the-job training.
And then, some companies might do a little bit of upgrading of skills or something like that. This is less of technical and more of vocational development and then job-related professional certification is also happening. For example, you are in quality control and then you need to do NDT testing, for which you need to be certified for NDT. People will also have to be certified for project management, scaffolding, rigging and slinging, crane operations etc. In such cases, they come to us for certifications. So that is the second string. So one is the business string and the second is the vocational training and the other is the certification programmes.
Is that going up pretty high right now, because PDO and its contractors have added around 8000 jobs in the last two years?
Yes, just now it’s picking so that’s why we are getting back into national projects portal. We have not doing vocational training for some time because of some technical reasons. But now things are looking better and more stable and we are getting back to it.
You also need a team of trainers, don’t you?
It’s difficult to get the talent today particularly with the new enhanced specifications but we are constantly on the look out for good trainers.
Can you comment about the BizPro awards?
If you look at the origin of Biz Pro awards, we found out that an awareness and drive for an Omani executive to excel himself and imbibe those soft sills is not there. And there was not enough competitiveness either. People just said, OK I have got a job and it is fine and there is no aspiration to grow. So the employers were wondering how they can inspire and bring them up? So we looked at it and said, let us create an awareness in the market. Look if you guys want to really progress, you’ve got to get these soft skills. Without them you cannot grow.
So you need a combination of technical skills, business skills and vocational skills. So we said, but how do you raise this awareness? Simple, by creating an award. The best employees from companies will be nominated, they will be put through an assessment process and the best of the three will be chosen and given awards. So everybody looks at them and ask what this award is all about. They will demonstrate their skills and thus we created that market dynamics. Now more and more nominations are coming and people are looking forward to the awards. An awareness has been created and that you got to be a business professional to progress and succeed to be tomorrow’s leader.
This time you have changed the name from Young Achievers to Business Professionals?
Yes. Earlier, we had two categories where we had a senior business leader as a role model and then we had young achievers. But now the market is more or less settled, so we may not need the business leader as they are already accomplishers and decided to focus on the young leaders and decided to call them just business professionals of the year.
Then we decided to only allow nominations from the companies but we are allowing even individuals who think they are competent. Now I have lot of nominations from individuals and companies.
What is the minimum criteria?
The individual should be in a managerial position with minimum five years of experience and should be in the private sector.
How is the response so far?
We have received 120 plus nominations till now. The selection process is done independently by KPMG. In the first round, all nominees will participate in screening management aptitude test where 12 semifinalists will be selected. This will be followed by an assessment process based on multiple activities where 5 finalists are picked. For the final three winners, an assessment will be made based on their presentation skills.