‘It is not only about survival of the fittest, it is about who adapts the most’

Omaira Farooq Al Olama is the founder of Advance Learning Formulas Administration (ALF), helping Emiratis enhance their employability and companies to address issues such as talent retention. During the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, she tells Vision how she is empowering the nation’s workforce  

The region is evolving. Many UAE nationals, as well as expat youths, that have either been born or raised here are finding more and more challenges in adapting to the workforce and their work environment.

ALF was created because I saw a gap in the market, a gap too big to ignore. Many young people felt disconnected from their jobs because they had no proper training or support. My company focuses on mindset and creativity, and we focus on making sure that employees understand what their job requires of them. We also work closely with companies to ensure that false promises are not made and that they are able to achieve their goals.

A very interesting story that I like to tell my students was the story of His Highness Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, god rest his soul. One evening he was sitting and flipping through the pages of Newsweek, looking at the various ads that were placed in it, and he asked his advisors what they thought if Dubai were to place an ad in the magazine. His advisors were against this. They asked, ‘Wouldn't it be better to invest in the infrastructure of the country?’

However, His Highness was adamant that it would be a good idea. He then asked his advisors, ‘Do you know where India is? China? Europe?’ When they said yes, he responded, ‘if people start coming to my Dubai, my nation, my people, it will make me so proud. Soon the whole world will want to come visit.’

He was right, not only did they visit, they came to live and work here. With that, however, came different ideals, values and work ethics; different cultures come with their own norms, their own ideas, and as a young nation we have to adapt. I always tell my students, Darwin’s ideas were not only about the survival of the fittest, it was about who adapted the most. If we don't adapt and learn and keep on adapting, we will be stuck in the past.

If we are not careful, we risk treading old paths and not asking intelligent questions that will help us to move forward

Therefore, I have written three signature programmes that I use to work closely with my nationals; it’s all about critical thinking, mindset and how to add value in the workforce. I have also created another programme - the national development programme. This usually involves heads of HR, or other departments, and provides an in-depth grounding in how to train, retain and allow nationals to excel in the work force. It is about empowering them, allowing them to make mistakes but to learn from their mistakes. It’s about allowing employees and employers to ask questions and not be afraid of how they look in front of others.

Another story I always tell my students, and that is the story of Margaret Thatcher, when she became Prime Minister. On her first day at Downing Street, she walked in and to the left of her was a staircase that led up to the private drawing rooms. There was a guard in front of the staircase, which she thought was quite odd, as there was a guard already at the entrance. She went on to ask the Chief of Staff and he also wasn't sure why there was an extra guard in that area. After further enquiries, she came to know that during the ‘60s Downing Street underwent a renovation and the stairway was painted. To avoid the paint dirtying passers by, a guard was stationed there, and when the party changed the new leader just assumed that was his job, and this continued until Margaret Thatcher decided to ask the question.

The point of this story is that if we are not careful, we risk treading old paths and not asking good, intelligent questions that will help us to move forward. However are we to succeed and grow as a nation if we don't question? What might have worked in the past might not work now and that's why we must always ask questions and use our judgment and find out why things are the way they are, then we can change it.

To this day, we have helped numerous corporations and are very proud of all that our nationals have achieved. But we are not done yet, we hope that there will come a point when companies such as mine don't exist and that everyone is able to work harmoniously and are capable of achieving their hopes and dreams.

Let’s build this nation.