Making training interactive

Justine Ormandy, area director of training, Dubai and the Northern Emirates, Rotana, talks to Hotelier about the challenges of conducting training around the clock , adapting courses to suit a multi-national audience and rolling out an emiratisation programme with the DTCM

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By  Sarah Gain Published  October 19, 2006

HME: Did you always want to work in training?|~|BOH--B.jpg|~|Justine Ormandy, area director of training, Dubai and the Northern Emirates, Rotana.|~|No. I liked the operational side of things. I liked to meet new people and not be tied to a desk. I worked in front office, and became a departmental trainer, and then I realised that it was just as much fun dealing with our internal customers — our staff.

I got to know the HR and training manager at the hotel very well and she was very supportive and helped me to get through the qualifications easily. That’s how I did it.
I think all hotel trainers should come from an operational background, as then you can paint a better picture when you are training.||**||HME: What are the main challenges of your job?|~||~||~|The main challenge is finding the right balance between training and operations. I want to train everyone before they meet a guest, but a hotel is a 24/7 business, so that is hard.

The clients know what to expect in terms of service and they know when there are new staff. We are dealing with international business travellers, and they are comparing us to other five-star hotels.

At this hotel we have over 40 different nationalities, so you have to make some slight adjustments to your training style. We normally have 6-20 people per course, and the courses range from a couple of hours to three days.

Naturally, we rely on HR to hire the right person through the door, and we take it from there. ||**||HME: How do you manage to juggle dealing with so many hotels?|~||~||~|I cover Dubai and the northern Emirates. That’s a total of eight properties at present, going up to 10 properties by the end of the year. I started with two of us in the team, myself and a management trainee; there are now nine people in the region, and we get great support from our area vice president and our vice president of human resources.

The training managers we have are all well experienced. For example, the training manager at the Al Murooj Rotana has worked for Ritz-Carlton, Four Seasons, and Starwood, and the training manager at Towers came to us from Jumeirah. They are coming from good five-star hotels.

We are a new hotel brand, so we have the luxury of learning from other companies mistakes.||**||HME: What is easier: re-training existing staff or training new recruits?|~||~||~|Both have their advantages and disadvantages. It is usually easier to retrain staff than to retrain management. Managers tend to be more set in their ways, whereas staff want to improve. They want to train. People here see hotels as a career, whereas in the UK it is just a job.||**||HME: How does training in the Middle East differ from training in the UK?|~||~||~|The UK tends to go through cycles — they build it up and then they break it down to save costs. When they are cost saving the first thing to go is the training. In the UK it is always a combined role: HR and training manager. Here, we have a set training programme, so we have time to evaluate. Whereas if you are juggling training with HR you can’t concentrate so well.||**||HME: How have you had to adapt your training style to suit this region?|~||~||~|We rely a lot more on interaction here. You have to say it, show it, do it and follow up. You can’t just say it and accept that people will understand. You have to be flexible. Also, you have to break it down and make training modular.

People are busy, and if it is modular it is easier to fit in, and people have time to reflect more on what they have learnt.
We also have a departmental trainer in every department.

The Al Bustan Rotana, for example, has 550 staff — we can’t do everything ourselves. So now we document everything with the departmental trainers, so we have a record.

The departmental trainers go through an international course, and they are recognised in the hotel. Each is awarded a pin badge, which they are presented with at our team meeting.

It is a lot of extra work to be a departmental trainer, as they still have a full time job to do, but it prepares them for supervisor or management roles, and provides us with a good support network for our other hotels.||**||HME: You first worked in the Middle East in 2002: what made you decide to return to the region?|~||~||~|It was a case of thinking the grass is always greener. I thought the UK had so many advantages, but then I found that everything was in cut back mode. Here, they are willing to spend on training to develop for the future. When I worked in Abu Dhabi in 2002 I had heard of Rotana, and knew it to be an emerging brand that was expanding rapidly. So I knew there was job security and growth with the company. When I started, this area had six hotels; we will have 10 by the end of the year.
||**||HME: What changes would you like to see in hotel training in the Middle East?|~||~||~|All hotel training managers are all working on the same things, so maybe we need a better network, to share ideas.

We are now working with the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM) on the emiratisation of our workforce. We are taking in local people and adapting them to the hotels, rather than taking in experienced hoteliers, so we have to offer a different type of training. We have had two DTCM fieldtrips into the hotel, with about 60 Emiratis, to educate them on guest care at Rotana. Perhaps we need more Arabic trainers, for when these people enter the hotel industry.

There has been a cultural shift. Training was seen as a luxury, now it is a necessity. There are lots of changes taking place in the company and lots of new initiatives coming out. Al Bustan is the flagship hotel for Rotana in Dubai, so most new initiatives tend to come out of here. We do a lot of cross training at this hotel. ||**||

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