February 2021 Spotlight: Sajini Ayer Learning & Development Manager for Al Bukhatir Group

  1. Tell us about you, your experience and time in the Middle East.

The words that best describe me are passionate, creative and adventurous. I am from India and have been living in the UAE for about six years now. My expertise lies in learning and  development, organization development and employee engagement. I am passionate about people and have immense faith in the spirit of mankind and our innate ability to learn, develop, grow and evolve. I consider myself blessed to be able to work and contribute in this space.

I came to Dubai, six years ago, with two bags, zero contacts or job and one big dream – to build myself a beautiful life here. I spent the first four years as a freelance consultant in the L&D space before moving in to employment. I had to start from scratch and that journey was never going to be easy, but it was rewarding, to say the least and I would do it all over again at the blink of an eye. That tells you a lot about me! Anything that comes easy and is in my comfort zone, does not catch my fancy. I always need a higher purpose, a bigger vision, a grander cause that would motivate me to get out of bed and jump into action every single morning.

Dubai is a land of opportunities and the one who dares to dream and then backs it up with sensible and sensitive action, gets rewarded. Having said that, it’s also a place that could be tough to survive in. Persistence, agility and sound networking skills will see one through.

2. How would you describe the learning & development industry in the UAE?

Well, I think it is a bit of a mixed bag. There are organizations and businesses that understand that L&D must not be classified as an expense but an investment. These are organizations that take proactive measures to empower and develop their employees. On the other hand, there are businesses that still see L&D as a luxury– something that’s good to have but not necessarily a “need to have” item. When the going gets tough, L&D is one of those departments that first gets impacted. Thankfully, I have seen a lot of change in this paradigm and organizations are waking up to the idea of looking at employee focused initiatives as a key driver to business success. What is important though, is to not stop with doing a few isolated training programs and workshops but to really build a culture of learning within the organization, such that it becomes an integral design of the organization fabric.

3.What are your biggest challenges in the next 5 years?

Considering how dynamic the world that we live in is, five years is too far ahead for me to comment on. A one to three year timeline is what I would consider more realistic. I would not really call these a challenge but rather areas that every business leader should focus on and that is to build more agile teams and departments. The last few months have taught the entire human race some important lessons and from a business perspective there have been some tough realizations. Long term plans and strategies won’t pass muster unless they are embedded in a bedrock of agility and creative thinking. In the words of Peter Drucker, “ Culture eats strategy for breakfast”, and hence that is what I would focus on – building a culture of agility, creativity and innovation. Strategies ride on business culture..

4.What are the skills and competencies that you would need to train in order to meet the regions talent requirements.

Jim Yong Kim, former Group President of World Bank said that the greatest challenge we face today is to equip the younger generation with the skills they will need no matter what future jobs look like. These skills include problem-solving, critical thinking, as well as interpersonal skills like empathy and collaboration.

UAE is a melting pot of talent and innovation and it amazes me with the ambitious milestones that it sets for itself. I believe a core component of this massively successful nation is its focus on developing a globally competitive workforce that has innovation and problem-solving abilities exercised in a collaborative and empathetic environment. These are excellent skills and competencies that every organization, every leader, every educator and every parent should focus on developing in the younger generation. But one can’t ignore the technology “revolution” that is going on around the world. The impact is pervasive and is here to stay. AI and automation have re.placed traditional, manual approaches to problem solving. Embracing this “revolution” and developing skills in this area will stand one in good stead in the years to come.

5.What are some actions one could take to be successful in the UAE?

That is a broad question and each one of us will have our own recommendations based on our experiences and stories. Also, “success” will have a different definition for each one of us. For some of us it could be more money while for others it may be richer relationships. Some of us may have spiritual goals, while others may have health goals.

I was part of a workshop a few days back and I will share some inspiring thoughts that I picked up from there. These are thoughts that will work in any environment, in any country and basing your actions on these ideas will put you on “your” path to success. Whatever your definition of success and personal experiences may be, these principles I share, will always apply:

1)    “You Can Have Everything In Life You Want, If You Will Just Help Enough Other People Get What They Want.” – Zig Ziggler

This is a powerful mantra and the UAE is a beautiful example of how this works. We place a lot of importance on relationships and networking here and a lot of business success flows from it. So add value, give, contribute, take part, share, help, pitch in – be a part of people’s success stories and do it with pleasure and selflessness. You will soon find people wanting to contribute to and be a part of your success story too.

  1. Above all: to thine own self be true – William Shakespeare (Hamlet)

In our fast paced lives we are always running a race – to make more money, to achieve more targets, to win more customers. Take a pause and breathe. Do not forget that your first responsibility is towards your own self. Take good care of yourself. Eat sensibly and get enough sleep. Take care of your mental and physical health. Invest in yourself. In the book “ Think and Grow Rich”, Napoleon Hill speaks about the fast-track method, where you ask yourself “what new knowledge and new skills will I have two years from now?”. Write this down on a sheet of paper and make your list. Follow this up with the question, “which one of these things can I do or acquire right now/ today?”. It does not matter even if you pick just one thing. It is something that you were planning to do two years from now.

Think about what could happen if you did it today?

With this method, you put yourself on a constant journey towards self-growth and development. You do not need a manager or a company to invest in you. There are free resources available everywhere today. Just put them to good use.

The beauty and charm of these principles is that they work well in any environment, culture, geography or situation. Try them out!

Sajini Iyer

Manager – Learning & Development | Group HR Department

Bukhatir Group

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