What new initiatives in Competence HR currently involved in?

AL FADHIL: Competence HR is in the business of recruitment, training development, and consultancy. Consultancy being policies, procedures, and competence based projections, job structures, job evaluations, etc. The initiatives for us would be the sectors we are entering. We recently entered the oil and gas sector, and we are glad we did as it was a successful venture. We also have clients in the telecommunications sector. We've done a lot of successful work with companies in other sectors too, given that we now have a proven track record of success that we can leverage to get work from other companies.

Which of the segments that you’re involved in are you focusing on the most?

AL FADHIL: We are quite active in all three sectors. Recruitment generally tends to be a cyclical process when there are new companies coming; if there are new companies coming or restructuring. Generally it would be towards the beginning of the year when the budgets are being set and sanctioned. Obviously, for us as a company to sustain a level of income, we need to focus on other practices as well. Training budgets are generally replenished every year, so we focus a lot on training and we do a lot of bilingual training. The linguistic skills of the local work force need to be developed in English as well as Arabic and training needs to be stepped-up; we do a lot of that. In fact, as I speak to you right now, there is a session going on in this building. So that is where the training and development come in. Of course, training needs analysis in order to identify the gaps as well as consulting about ways of customizing our training programs. A lot of clients find that very interesting. As far as consultancy is concerned, that is a slower line for us. But recently, we have done fairly well in it.

How competitive is the HR industry in Oman? What is your market share and how do you see this evolving over the medium-term?

AL FADHIL: I would say there is still room for growth. Of course, there are regional and international brands that come into play as well. There aren't that many local consultancy and HR providers, but if you take the regional and international brands, then the market is indeed sufficient. I wouldn't say it’s cluttered or saturated but I think the local consultancies need to step up their game in terms of what they can provide. HR has to do with human capital and when you’re dealing with human capital, it’s all about personal relations. I believe when you can provide the local content to a client, there is value to that; as there is a value in understanding the local people, their culture, and customs. So to answer your question, there is room for growth, yet it is a competitive industry. Our market share is private but I can comfortably tell you that until recently, Competence HR wasn't that visible in the market. However, during the last 2 years we have gotten very aggressive, hence our market share is increasing and our clients’ portfolio is growing and diversifying. We have been successfully able to recruit, plan training and development programs, deliver training sessions, and provide consultancy services to our clients.

What are Competence HR’s competitive advantages?

AL FADHIL: The Omanization level in my company, in Competence HR, actually far exceeds that stipulated by the regulator. In this industry we are mandated to have roughly 35% Omanization. Right now, Competence sits at well above 70%, and very honestly, Omanization is far more to me than just lip service. I have taken in fresh graduates, I have invested a lot of time, effort, and money in developing them and shaping them to where I would like them to be. My recruitment team is fully Omanized, my training team is 2/3 Omanized, and my consultancy is 1/3 Omanized. So overall, as I said, we are above the 70% mark. In order to have these young Omanis who are extremely passionate about what they do, you have to pick the right ones to begin with. So we recruit for ourselves as well as for clients. But to have these young Omanis who are really passionate, eager to learn the ropes, and quite talented, you should have them face the customers as this makes a lot of difference. It’s showing the customer or client how well and in tune we are with what’s going on locally. Obviously, you can count on an Omani to know what is going on in Oman.

How would you say Omanization has impacted the overall human resource industry?

FADHIL: I think the term “Omanization” emerged about 2 decades ago. I think I was just fresh out of university at the time. What is happening in Oman is that the statistics say that a good 50% of the population is less than 18 years of age. So what is happening is that you have lots of these young adults coming into the job market. We might be slightly different than some of our neighbouring countries because a good 80% of Omani residents are actually Omanis. We need to make room for these folks to work. As a result, Omanization emerged and is indeed quite important. What impact has it had on the workforce? Well, that is a direct outcome of how good our training and development programs have been. And to be honest, a company that has taken the lead on this is Petroleum Development Oman (PDO). They have had a fabulous result from Omanizing jobs and the way they have done it. They have had a bottom up approach where you train your not very senior personnel; all the technicians, supervisors, foreman, moving on to engineers and so forth. So, if you as an organization really take Omanization to heart and develop and deliver programs that really elevate the performance level of Omanis, I think that you will have better continuity in the workforce and work that is done with a lot of heart. Omani’s would be more giving to their own country than anyone else would I imagine. I think that is just natural. To answer your question, what impact has it had? In some sectors it has had great impact, and other sectors unfortunately haven’t been as successful.

How do you think the implementation of the new minimum wage has affected the industry?

AL FADHIL: Look, if you ask me from a private sector point of view, I think that in my company I’m already lucky to have everyone well above the minimum wage. But if I were to answer on behalf of my industry captains, I think it has affected them quite drastically, particularly in the industrial sector where the profit margins are already thin. They now have to consider a 3% annual increase. So, from a profitability point of view, it is very challenging. Another challenging aspect is when a 3% increase is imposed with no regard to performance. You know what message is being sent out to the young Omanis? Whether you come or do not come to work, you do or do not deliver, you will get a 3% increase anyway. I don’t know how inline that is with our inflation, but regardless, it should be tied to a performance management scheme. I would imagine that a lot of industry leaders would agree to the 3-5% increase as long as it is tied to individual performance. We reward the good performers and push them to excel, whereas we use the same tactic to motivate the non-performers by encouraging them forward to step up. On the contrary, if I decide to give a standard increase, across the board, I would be taking away recognition from the people who are performing and normally demotivating everyone.

The World Economic forum has stated that the two most problematic factors for doing business in Oman are restrictive labour regulations and an inadequately educated workforce. What actions is Oman taking to ease current labour regulations? What role is Competence HR playing in order to help develop the skills and knowledge of the Omani labour force?

AL FADHIL: I think there is indeed a lack of quality training organizations, institutes, and enterprises. Our training is based on theory. When I say training, I don’t just mean professional training, I also mean education. Growing up in Oman, there has generally been a lot of focus on memorizing things rather than practically experiencing them. I could understand this! When I was in school in the 70s and 80s, when Oman had just woken up to the renaissance of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said, compared to many other countries, we were doing much better. Now, I reckon things should have moved on. I’m not very much in sync with the education system, but I do know that the background was focused very much on listening and memorizing and writing rather than doing things. If I look at some of the schools in the United States, or the Western World in general, there is a lot of emphasis on project and research, a very “go out and do it yourself” sort of thing which not only ingrains learning but also teaches the students to depend on themselves and find their own ways of dealing with issues. I think the education system needs to focus on that a bit more. Competence HR is providing professional training. While there might be a wide array of ready-made training modules available for companies to choose from, we approach training in a different manner. Normally, I speak to CEOs or MDs to understand their business objectives and main goals, be it profitability, customer service excellence, etc. The focus needs to be on helping the client by immediately starting to focus on the gaps. We propose tailored and customized training and development sessions to fill in those gaps. We bring in our trainers and get them to sit with the client and understand their culture and issues. We have a couple of Omani trainers who add a lot of value. So companies could use examples during the training course or session from their same company or culture. We do a lot of customization, which hits the nail on the head in delivering what the client really wants.