Take a tour of Al Naboodah Trade School in Dubai

The burgeoning construction industry in the GCC has become a hub for global construction firms and contractors, attracting a large labour force, especially from Southeast Asia.

For construction operatives arriving in the UAE from around the world, learning the ropes and adapting to local regulations can be a challenge. For this reason, Al Naboodah Construction Group launched a trade school to re-train its operatives on basic construction skills.

Located in Al Awir, Dubai, the trade school began operations in January 2016, and provides training for construction workers in Engineering Construction Industry Training Board (ECITB) International Health and Safety Passport programmes, health and safety, mechanical and electrical works, steel fixing, shuttering, masonry, scaffolding, tiling, and plastering.

Statia Breen, learning and development manager at Al Naboodah Group Enterprises – Al Naboodah Construction Group, explains to Construction Week how the training works. “Each programme runs for five to six days, except for the health and safety course, which is a one-day programme. The school is open six days a week, from 8.30am to 4.30pm.”

Each week, the trade school trains 100 operatives, after which they are given a certificate of participation and graded according to their level of learning.

The trade school is only open to Al Naboodah Construction Group employees, and training is provided to operatives in three languages: Hindi, Urdu, and Bengali. Most of the construction workers are from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, Breen explains.

Since January 2016, the centre has trained more than 6,000 employees. Plans to introduce vocational training courses for new employees, and for those who wish to change careers, are also in the pipeline.

All trainers work as full-time educators with Al Naboodah Construction. Each has 20 years of experience in their respective fields, and seven years’ experience as educators. The trade school was certified with the ECITB accreditation in August 2016, and is currently in the process of gaining City & Guilds accreditation.

Breen explains in detail what each training course entails. “We have a five-day basic scaffold awareness programme, plus a one-day legal session with an external law expert. All scaffolders who join Al Naboodah have to attend this training programme. We also have scaffolder inspector training held at the trade school. All the programmes are then followed by legislative training, which is a UAE requirement. ”

She continues: “Each programme consists of five to six modules, depending on the number of days. Each day, a different module is taught and, according to how they perform in each module, operatives receive a rating that is reflected in their grades.”

Walking us through the trade school, Breen says: “Once the scaffolders within the company have completed their initial training, they will come back after six months on refresher programmes. At the scaffolding zone, 15 scaffolders are brought in each week, and work between two bays with two trainers. The onsite supervisors are also trained.”

Launched recently, Al Naboodah’s one-day health and safety course employs what Breen describes as “visual impact training” to highlight the importance of safety on the job site. This is achieved through a 45-minute theatrical performance of four different scenarios, dealing with health, safety, and injury issues – all acted out.

She elaborates: “The idea behind this is to demonstrate to all the construction site operatives the correct method for working onsite. We have a foreman and five actors on the team.”

The mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) training programme is a five-day course, in which operatives are taught the right methods of using equipment such as distribution boards, ducting, and installation of air conditioning. “We also offer special training for operatives when contractors get new material on site. We get suppliers to come and train staff on the new material before they begin working with it on site,” she adds.

Breen points out that the MEP training is a refresher programme for existing operatives, helping them to brush up on their skills and knowledge of quality issues, as opposed to being an entry-level qualification for electricians or plumbers.

The masonry programme, also a refresher course, covers block work, interlocking, concrete curbing, and manhole training for the civil division, as well as tiling and plastering. Masons are taught the best practice for basics, such as building walls and concrete pouring.

The carpentry programme is a six-day course, in which operatives learn the correct method of wall shuttering and slab decking. “Everything we do here mimics onsite project work,” notes Breen. “Shuttering is the biggest part of carpentry in the civil division, and that’s what we teach.”

The steel-fixing training programme, also a six day course, educates operatives in reinforcement concrete slab works, column shuttering, and best practice for different types of steel works.

“Every operative coming to the trade school has an assessment with us before they start the course. We also carry out independent skill assessments, which form part of their annual appraisal. So we are able to measure how much their skills have been developed,” Breen says.

Al Naboodah Construction’s workforce consists of 12,000 personnel, and all operatives must undergo training at the school. When Construction Week visited the premises in Q1 2017, 100% of the company’s scaffolders had already completed skills training at the trade school, as had 76% of its masons, 64% of its steel fixers, and 48% of its carpenters, according to Breen.

“This means that 825 carpenters, 615 steel fixers, 837 masons, and 484 scaffolders have undergone training at the centre, and we have assessed 3,939 skilled operatives,” she adds. “Once all the staff have attended the initial training at the trade school, we will develop technical programmes in relation to block work, carpentry, and masonry, which will be more intricate and advanced.”

Operatives have to undergo role-specific training at the trade school on a yearly basis, and each employee has to attend additional training programmes every quarter. Foremen and supervisors are also required to attend the training sessions to ensure that best practice is followed across the board.

In April 2017, Al Naboodah Trade School plans to launch programmes to train unskilled operatives in trades. Breen says: “We will start the programme with three courses – steel fixing, carpentry, and block work – with a view to adding a scaffolding course later on.”

Breen concludes: “We believe in investing in our people. After the training, they are more engaged, there is a sense of pride, and the work they deliver onsite is of improved quality. It ultimately leads to happier clients.”