The first-ever Festival of Media MENA was held in April this year, inviting experts from different fields to talk about the evolving advertising and media industry in the MENA region. As the industry grows, so, inevitably, does the demand for skilled talent. It’s no surprise then, that one of the panels focused on “Solving the Talent Conundrum” and featured TECOM Media Cluster’s managing director, Mohammad Abdullah. We caught up with him to glean more insight into the state of talent – especially local talent – within the UAE.
Current state of affairs
Abdullah says that the issue of talent, especially in the media, has always been one to spur debate and concern. However, it is key to compare the current state of talent, to how it was in 15 to 20 years back – before the establishment of any media clusters. Hiring talent was much more difficult and challenging back then, even though there were fewer media organizations – most of which were governmental. Yet, media owners faced challenges and turned to other Arab countries for recruitment. Foreign language publications – primarily English – recruited talent from India and, to a small extent, from Europe. Today, there are 22,000 employees registered with the media clusters, including Dubai Media City, Studio City and the Media Production Zone, indicating that the establishment of media clusters has created a pool of talent in Dubai. “The establishment of Dubai Media City (DMC) succeeded in attracting international media companies to Dubai and the scene totally changed,” says Abdullah.
Even better, Dubai has now transitioned from importing talent to exporting it, with media companies in other GCC countries turning to it for recruitment. Moreover, several media companies use their Dubai operations as the headquarters.
However, the issue of unsufficient talent remains, as the media industry in the UAE continues to grow. Abdullah says that he receives multiple requests from media companies asking for academic contacts, which could guide them toward graduates who would be interested in entering the media and advertising industry. While demand is a concern, the quality or skill of talent is important as well. “There may be 100 students graduating every semester, but do they have the passion, skill and spark to work with media companies?” he asks.
The importance and lack of local talent
Dubai is a cosmopolitan city and the UAE is an international country, due to the high number of expats living here. “When you produce content for any media, it’s international content, but part of your audience is the UAE local [population]. So, you need to add that local flavor,” insists Abdullah. This “local flavor” is embedded in the nuances of language, expression and style, which even an expat who has grown up here might not be able to catch. And that’s why Abdullah feels that local advertising is not reflecting the roots and culture of the UAE to a large extent. He admits that the percentage of Emiratis in the UAE population is relatively low, but they still form an important consumer segment that is sought after by marketers.
The fact that the Emirati population is low in the country is not a factor in the scarcity of the local talent in the advertising industry, says Abdullah. Undoubtedly, one of the factors is the growing demand for new hires, which he says “we can’t keep up with”. The other factor is the fact that the long hours and the lower pay – at least for fresh graduates – might not be luring them. Additionally, the entrepreneurial spirit of the younger generation means that a lot of graduates end up establishing their own businesses rather than working for someone else.
The next step
In order to face these various hurdles and help find solutions, DMC is setting up various initiatives.
As an internal exercise, “we are trying to bring academics and media companies together”, says Abdullah. Up until recently, academic programs were not well designed for the advertising industry. However, the solution has to be two-fold. While institutions develop courses catering to the advertising industry’s needs, media companies need to develop proper programs to train interns. Additionally, Abdullah suggests that media agencies should work out a mechanism with universities that would increase the salary of graduates by treating their internship as some kind of experience, which would mean a higher-than-usual salary when they do graduate and join the industry.
In a bid to attract more students, DMC also has an awards program, the Ibda’a Media Student Awards, in conjunction with the International Advertising Association (IAA).
“It is not easy and it will be challenging, but it has to start somewhere,” concludes Abdullah.