Former Shell Oman boss says training is key

Nick Pattison is a former chairman and managing director of Shell Oman

In his latest column for OmanGBnews.com, former Shell Oman chairman and managing director Nick Pattison discusses the “absolute necessity” of staff training.

Clearly in a capital as opposed to labour-heavy world, people require higher skill levels, writes Nick. They also need to be more work-oriented since a sophisticated piece of equipment needs to be manned with greater commitment and concentration than, say, a spade.

While there are many Omanis who meet the highest international standards in terms of that knowledge, experience and commitment, there are others who do not. I believe this to be largely the fault of employers.

The difference between attitudes in Oman and those in many other countries, is that here in Oman most companies still believe that training is a cost, rather than a benefit and a duty. It is quite usual to blame an Omani's poor performance on culture and a general malaise.

My view is different. It is most disheartening going round many Omani companies, asking to see their staff development plans and finding they have none. People, as opposed to activities and positions, are simply not valued highly enough.

Only recently in the papers, Omanis, when polled, said that the only way to progress was to move jobs. That frankly is a shameful commentary on how some managers treat their staff.

I once talked to an Omani who had worked for the same company for 20 years as a driver. Not once had anyone in the company asked him what his interests were or talked to him about the skills he needed to get him off the minimum wage. So he had been on the minimum wage all that time doing the same old job. I asked him whether he enjoyed his job. He just shrugged.

Conversely I remember hiring Omanis who were secondary school leavers, to man our packing plant. Each one was told he could aspire to being the chief executive and that we would provide them training in whatever skills they lacked or whatever relevant subjects interested them. Within a year one became the plant supervisor. And we never had problems with them not turning up for work. Yes we probably paid a 20 per cent wage premium, but we certainly got more than that premium back in output.

So please regard your staff as assets and training as a benefit, not a cost. I know that the usual complaint is that when someone is trained that person immediately leaves for another company at a slightly higher salary. This is to be expected as properly trained Omanis are currently a scarce resource and the necessary and continuous dialogue between staff and management that makes staff feel included, valued and a part of the team is often missing.

Loyalty is not a one-way street. The first people who need training include all levels of management. It strikes me as very strange that this needs to be said, but I suppose the value of training a welder appears obvious to all, while the need to have properly trained managers is less immediately obvious. Never, ever, parachute in a member of the family, or a friend or someone who does not have the relevant experience into a manager's job just in the name of friendship or Omanisation. It will prove disastrous.

Training is not just about sending people on recognised courses either. The aim of training is both to ensure that the company has all the skills it needs to perform as it wishes (both now and in the future) AND to ensure that the individual achieves what he/she is capable of achieving in that environment.

A person's training needs require constant assessment in the context of what he or she is capable of and also in terms of what the company's skill requirements are. How often do companies even bother to analyse their skill requirements?

When you develop your long-term and annual plans, look at the skills you will need to operate successfully in your chosen business environment. Check out changing technologies, spending patterns, consumer interests. Identify the company's key challenges in that future environment and determine what skills are needed to address those challenges. Then look at the skills you have already have in the staff that you employ, recognise the skills gaps (including managerial) and plan how you aim to fill those gaps. Simple really, but how many companies do this?

And one final thought… The only thing worse than training people and having them leave is not training them and having them stay.