Training 600 Young Egyptians for the World’s Biggest Power Plants
Ahmed El Saadany, Regional Learning Manager at Siemens for the Middle East and Africa speaks about Siemens’ experience in providing the training for the 600 Egyptian engineers and technicians who are now responsible for managing the world’s largest combined cycle, gas-fired power plants.
To me, education is more than just a job, it is a passion for unleashing people’s potential and a mission for helping them advance and excel. To Siemens also building three giant Power Plants in Egypt was not just a project, it is the company’s passion and mission for energizing countries and helping them grow and prosper. This project is a clear embodiment of how a job with all the underlying challenges can be much easier and much more fun if it touches the core – a passion and a mission.
When I started working for Siemens Egypt in 2015, I was appointed as a Learning Manager for a mega-project to establish three gigantic Gas-fired Combined Cycle Power Plants in Egypt, with an aim to expand the country’s energy footprint by 14.4 Gigawatts – translating to over 40% of the overall current capacity. A dramatic increase that would not just help solve the country’s problem with frequent power cuts, but to also aid in attracting further investment to boost economic growth.
Not just being characterized as ‘The World’s Biggest’, the Power Plants are indeed being built in a record time of 2.5 years – half the time usually needed to build something of this scale.
Although this project brings various challenges with resources, time, budget and logistics; the “Human element” was for me the most significant. Each of the Power Plants will need 200 personnel (Egyptians, mostly Blue-Collars) to be operated and maintained properly, so for all three plants we needed to source 600 people. A relatively small number considering the millions of young people available to work in Egypt, hopefully; or that was at least the assumption!
Recruiting the 600
Recruitment started and criteria was set to ensure the candidates had some technical background, basic academic grades, and basic English language – Quite simple; nonetheless, when applications started to flow in and interviews began; first “few thousand applicants” could not match the requirements of the first Training Batch of only 50 trainees. Again we tried, undertaking thousands upon thousands of interviews, with an average of 1,000 per week to keep up with the target of enrolling up to 50 trainees every month, but still we faced challenges.
For nearly two years, we have been repeatedly announcing and promoting the available jobs. Jobs that offer a decent salary, and very attractive Training Package with Siemens extending over 6 months between Egypt and Germany. But no matter how impressive the package was, and how many people were interested, it was still hard to source the right people.
In a country that has a population of over 90 million and half below the age of 29, it was far from being classified as a challenge to find 600 young people with the entry-level qualifications, but that was obviously an underestimation…
Only at this point we could see the mountain we have to climb! With a matching rate of nearly 1%, and the fact that out of a “thousand” job seekers we can barely secure “ten”, we decided to lower our ambitions when it comes to e.g. academic grades and English language, which made it work. We managed to enroll the first batch of 50 trainees, maybe with some shortage in numbers but we could still fly. For the batches thereafter it was the same, starting with lesser numbers than planned while consummating the rest as we go; that worked out quite well so far.
A noteworthy fact on the Egyptian labor market; Egyptians pride themselves in working for the public sector, and as soon as you label a job with “Government”, the number of candidates skyrockets. So with 600 jobs labelled with ‘The Egyptian Ministry of Electricity’, we were getting even more people applying. This is what we called the “Funnel-effect” to turn ‘Quantity’ into ‘Quality’.
As well as a major need for technical awareness, most did not have basic communication, language, self-esteem, or even positivity. A very important set of skills that cannot be undervalued in today’s world.
The Training Approach
Having noticed such a gap of much-needed skills, we created a 6-month training program tailored to place equal focus on both technical and non-technical aspects, with more weight to subjects such as Work Ethics, Communication, Teamwork, English Language, and even Psychology and Happiness.
The training program indeed illustrates what a “demand-oriented” approach should look like – offering a mix between technical and non-technical aspects interwoven together harmoniously.
We could have simply trained in industry-specific content, and reduced the overall duration and complexity, yet we knew the behavioral aspect was without doubt of the greatest help to those who have missed a lot in their previous years of education.
The fact that preparing minds is equally important as preparing hands; and that behavioral skills are no longer a “nice-to-have” set, therefore implementing a package of soft modules with the use of experiential techniques to make it as interesting and compelling as hard skills, has made the difference. Moreover, interrupting a possible monotonous nature of consecutive technical training sequences by injects of soft skills can be really conductive to good training results.
Implicit learning is also important; traveling abroad for example had a meaning beyond hands-on training at our equipped facilities in Germany. It helped the trainees get exposed to a different culture which opened their minds to new horizons; they implicitly gained a set of cross-cultural competencies that are not anymore an option in today’s globalized world.
60,000 to 600!
Today, I’m pleased to announce that we are only few tens away from the target of 600. More than 550 strong candidates have been already enrolled into the programme. A very satisfying feeling, yet somewhat exhausting considering they were the result of screening 50,000+ applications.
Looking back, I can clearly recall the moment when we were approaching April 3rd 2016 – date for the first batch of 50 trainees - Having interviewed thousands, and 50 were hardly reached. Fifty great candidates, but we needed so many more for the batches thereafter. However, despite this fear of what the future holds for us, we celebrated our first victory. Maybe celebrating (too) early with the start of the first batch was not so logical but we actually did celebrate such milestone. We somehow enjoyed this feeling of trying hard to fly an aircraft with a broken engine and after all the challenges you land safely; this is worth celebrating.
It is true that we are what we believe and what we are able to accomplish. And great accomplishments do always come with great challenges, however we can overcome all the challenges we face if we believe in what we do; if we have passion for it, and a clear mission to follow it through.
For our topic here, the question remains: Why is it so challenging to find those we need in a country that is full of millions of young people? At the time that thousands of people do strive to win one of these vacancies, why only few that could actually bring the very basic skill-set we look for?
And the answer to all of these questions, which we learned the hard way, is a clear-cut “Education”.
What can we do moving forward to ensure the Quality of Education, and more precisely – Quality of Technical and Vocational Education in Egypt? This is what we will pursue. In the upcoming articles we will elaborate more on the challenges this segment faces in Egypt as well as what solutions has Siemens as a company planned to deal with them; this is not only relevant to Egypt, I’m quite sure so many countries have similar situation, So stay tuned…
It is that essential in order to operate sustainably in one country to add a lasting value into its people’s lives, yet businesses do care about profits and return on investment, from my experience Education is a good way to tackle both.