Graduation day for DBI interns

The first cohort of students graduates from the Dubai Business Internships programme, creating a new breed of China-Dubai cultural ambassadors

The inaugural Dubai Business Internships (DBI) class of 17 students has graduated in the emirate, the first to complete a programme designed to nurture a new breed of China-Dubai cultural ambassadors.

The graduation heralds the end of a 10-month DBI programme that gives Chinese university graduates exposure to doing business and living in Dubai.

“The aim was to create a cultural ambassador programme to make a strong bridge to China,” said James Maughan, DBI programme director at Falcon and Associates, which runs the scheme. “In the long term we’ll see the fruits of this investment. In 10 years’ time the [DBI interns] will be 35-years-old, they’ll be captains of whatever industry they want to be in, and it is then that they will be able to call upon those connections they made in Dubai.”

DBI is also designed to help interns close the gap between academia and the working world, by mixing classroom-based courses with hands-on experience. The interns complete 13 weeks of modules in business basics such as marketing, organisational behaviour and economics before doing a 26-week work placement at Dubai government entities and companies. DBI programme partners this year included DP World, Emirates Group and Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Dubai Business Internships
The next cohort will be joined by peers from the US, Russia and Kazakhstan, as well as China

Around half the current crop of interns will stay on in the emirate after graduation, either in full-time jobs or in follow-on internships, according to the programme.

The programme’s partners stand to gain, too, from the placements. “From a strategic point of view, Jumeirah wants to understand the Chinese market better,” said Piers Schreiber, group vice president, corporate communications and public affairs, at Jumeirah Group, a DBI partner who hosted two interns. “The best way to do that is to get talent in-house.”

Already, some of the interns have helped strengthen ties between China and the Gulf emirate. “Dixin [Deng, a law student from Peking University] has travelled the world with us. Dixin has allowed us to open doors that would otherwise have been closed,” said Mark Beer, registrar of another programme partner, Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) Courts. “Dixin has done more to improve relations between the Chinese courts and the Dubai courts in one year, than has been done in the 100 years before. That’s the impact of the programme.”

As part of the graduation, Hang Guo, Qing Chen and Yikai Zeng won special mentions for their contributions, while Qing Chen was also awarded the outstanding project prize for the most impressive end of year consultancy project alongside teammate Weining Qiu.

Chen, who has gained a place as a full-time employee working in Dubai Calendar under the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (Dubai Tourism), said of his time: "I've leant a lot about business knowledge, Arab culture, and Dubai – but most importantly, I have gained a group of lifelong friends."

In 10 years’ time the [DBI interns] will be 35-years-old, they’ll be captains of whatever industry they want to be in, and it is then that they will be able to call upon those connections they made in Dubai

James Maughan, DBI programme director, Falcon and Associates

The next cohort will start in August in what will now be an annual programme. This time, some 40 to 45 students will take part; the majority will be from China, but they will also be joined by peers from the US, Russia and Kazakhstan.

“That will bring different perspectives, because solving business problems is all about dealing with different cultures. The richer the perspectives, often the better the solution,” said Falcon’s Maughan. “It will be even closer to real life.”

New partners are also on board for the next edition. The DBI programme is in talks with the Jebel Ali Free Zone (JAFZA), located at Dubai’s mega-port, and the UAE Prime Minister’s Office, among others.

Initiatives such as DBI are particularly crucial given the mismatch between graduates’ skills and what employers want. Despite high rates of youth unemployment – the global jobless rate for young people is three times higher than for adults, according to the UN – many employers say they cannot find people with the right skillsets to fill vacancies. The DBI programme delivers soft skills training continuously alongside the programme, such as teamwork and presentation skills.

“This is a professional readiness programme…[It] was created to give mastery of skills that companies are hungry for,” said Maughan. “We’re trying to break the mould of education and have a very rich, on-the-job, management training experience.”