By Perminus Wainaina
Over the years, the Dubai job market has risen to become one of the top job destinations for job seekers not only in Kenya, but globally too. At Corporate Staffing Services, whereas we do not directly hire for people to go and work there, we do work closely with companies which are based in the Middle East and are looking to set up in Kenya.
In December, I had a chance to interview Timothy Njihia, the Area Manager for RwandAir who is based in the UAE, looking after AE, GCC Countries and Pakistan. I sought to get a deeper understanding of getting a job in Dubai. He shared his experience on just how he was able to secure a job in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Here is the interview (you can watch it below), on what he has learned along the way, and his advice to you:
What is your professional background?
I will start by saying what I do. I head the commercial base of RwandAir region based in Dubai, and I look after the UAE – Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Those are the markets that I look after.
I started out as a travel professional I was in Utalii College where I studied travel. I started out in the travel business, travel management companies to be specific and this is where I honed my skills. In the travel business, I started out in operations, went back to school and did a postgraduate diploma in marketing, which strengthened my skill set even more.
With this, I transitioned from operations into sales & marketing, and got my first job as a group sales & marketing manager in Kenya. This is how I started growing my skills and shortly after, I was appointed General Manager, at the organization. I later went general management for sales & marketing. During that time, my interest in airlines was sparked.
As a travel agent, airlines sell to us and you work on behalf of them. I needed to transition into airline and I got an opportunity. As I almost took up the job, RwandAir came calling, and I took an offer as the country head for the UAE. Fast forward this is the 5th year running.
It’s been a journey that has not been easy – I would not want to tell anybody it’s been an easy journey and especially in transitioning from one industry to the other and from one country to the other. So it’s been a long journey transitioning and settling in. There have been a lot of cultural changes – especially in how business is done in Africa compared to the Middle East. There’s been a lot of cultural orientation for me.
Two things that are very unique about you. You’re a Kenyan working in Dubai, and that makes you an expatriate, but you’re also a Kenyan working for a foreign company. You work for RwandAir. So how did you go about getting a job at RwandAir?
For me it has been through networking and being out there. I talked about branding yourself. When I was in travel and operations on the commercial side of things, I networked a lot. I was out there, people knew me and so word went round.
I am also very active on LinkedIn, where I follow people and various organizations thus I am able to see a lot of opportunities. Through this, one thing led to the other, and my name was forwarded. I attended interviews and was even invited to Rwanda for an interview. I eventually got the opportunity to work in the Middle East in operations. So, for me, it’s just all about being out there.
So for you what worked is networking, having a very good social media profile, specifically on LinkedIn?
For someone watching us in Kenya, if you were to advise them, how easy would you say it is to get a job in Dubai?
Like in any job you are looking for, even when you sit and decide that you want to look for a job, there are certain things that you have to do. You have to have a good CV, you’ve got to have done proper research about the company and at least a basic minimum in terms of what you want to do.
I would not want to mislead anyone that it’s easy to get a job in Dubai or UAE, just like it is not easy to get a job in Kenya. It’s not a walk in the park. You’re not the only one. Unlike Kenya where I would be battling it out with a fellow Kenyan, the UAE has over 200 nationalities. So I’m battling for one single job, with say 5 people from other nationalities. So it’s actually fiercely competitive here than it is in Kenya.
And this is where I keep saying there is a lot of misinformation that someone is going to leave Kenya, fly into the UAE and get a job the next day. No, you have to work for it.
You’ve been here for 4 years, I know you’ve interacted with a lot of Kenyans, what would you say are some of the top mistakes that people they make when they think of not only working in Dubai but also the Middle East?
I think the first thing is that people think that this is a land of opportunity. I know, this is a land of opportunity, but I think people think the opportunities are right at the airport. People think you’re just going to arrive and get grabbed with an opportunity and an employer.
I also believe that a lot of people, who are here (Dubai), do not give the right information. They could be giving people back at home an impression that they are making it big in Dubai. Someone back home will look at them and think that they could leave Kenya, come to Dubai and be like the person they see living a good life. So there is a lot of misrepresentation.
There are also a lot of people not being advised on the fact that there is competition.
For me, it’s lack of information and misinformation. That is the key thing. Also, when they arrive here, some of them get into the wrong company and get misled on what to do.
There are also those who become comfortable and they want to come in and straight start living the ‘high’ life they see on social media.
Truth is, when you land here you need to deliberately look for a job – start researching, start following companies, start making online applications consistently.
I’ve heard a lot of successful stories of people who’ve landed here and have been very resilient. They wake up early, do their research on job opportunities, apply for available jobs and even go out there distributing their CVs. However, I’ve also seen cases of people who’ve come here on a 3-month visa, and after the 3 months, they don’t have jobs.
One question that I get asked frequently is, if one is to get a job outside the country, do they have to use an agent, and specifically for the Dubai job market?
It’s a yes and no for me. I actually think there are more agents recruiting for Dubai in Kenya, than they are recruiting for Kenya. And most of those agents, actually have not been to Dubai themselves. There are naughty people out there who just want to con people out of their hard earned cash, and they say they are agents recruiting.
There are also genuine people like Corporate Staffing, who are actually out there to help Kenyans. So when it comes to agents there are two types: the genuine ones and the ones who are not genuine.
You can use an agent, who may have been procured by companies in the Middle East and a company tells you I need this number of Kenyans in this particular industry, with this kind of qualifications. So person X goes to that agent and they come in. So that is one avenue.
However, you don’t necessarily need an agent because like I said, you can come into Dubai on a 3 months visa, pay for accommodation, and start looking for jobs immediately you get here.
It’s possible for you to get to Dubai without a job and actively search for a job once here?
Yes. I have interacted with many people who have done that. Most of my friends actually came in that way. One particular individual came to visit a relative who informed them about a job, they applied and got it! They simply came to visit their relatives and got a job through their own initiative.
The other thing I know Kenyans will be interested in is, are there specific industries where you would say hire Kenyans?
Well, not necessarily, but I would want to say because of our rich culture, we do a lot better in hospitality. A big number of Kenyans I’ve seen are in the hospitality industry. That’s hotels, airlines, entertainment establishments, of course retail – the jobs where one requires people who are good in hospitality. This comes from how we Kenyans are. So that is quite big.
What about say if I’m an accountant or an engineer or even in HR, are there opportunities for skilled high level professionals?
Yes. I would want to divide jobs in Dubai as white collar jobs, and blue collar. Specialist jobs exist. When you come into Dubai in such roles, it depends on your level of life, and the level you are in, in your career. Are you starting out in that or are you at another level? Are you maybe being transferred by your organization that has offices here, or are you coming to look out for a job? These opportunities are there.
What makes news especially from the Middle East in Kenya, usually highlights the low level skilled individuals – house girls, office messengers, security guards etc. So I’m just wondering now, if I’m a skilled professional with 10-15 years of experience will I still have an opportunity?
Yes. There are opportunities for everybody – skilled, unskilled. It’s a big market with fierce competition.
Let’s talk about salary. There’s a misconception that if as a driver in Kenya I am earning Kshs50,000, if I come to Dubai, my salary will double or even triple. What’s your take? Is it necessarily that if I board an aero plane my value doubles?
My take comes with a question. That triple salary you will be paid, are you going to be paid and spend it in Kenyan shillings?
No. First will you get a higher pay?
Not necessarily because when you come in as a driver, there is a certain pay structure that they are paid. It is only that when you take that money in Dirhams (Dubai currency) and multiply it with Kenyan shillings, your relative will think you are earning more. But when you take the same amount and place it here with the cost of living in Dubai, again relatively it may not be that much.
What other thing would you want Kenyans to know when it comes to salaries?
Well, when you are trying to think about a job, you need to ask yourself what benefits you will get. Is accommodation taken care of? Is medical taken care of? This is because, the salary might look big, but when you break it down into different components of accommodation and transport for example, then it stops making a lot of sense.
So you need to do your due diligence in terms of what you are getting into, before you jump and say this is what you are going to do. Some organizations may look like they are not paying much, but they are providing you with everything – housing, transport and food. So you find someone earning less, but when it comes to these other things, they are taken care of. So it’s a mix of a lot of things.
Watch The Full Interview Here
The United Arab Emirates is a good country with many nationalities, there are lots of Kenyans too and you can join them if you use the right methods in your job search. Be smart and put the tips shared above, into practice. All the best!
Perminus Wainaina is the C.E.O and Managing Partner at Corporate Staffing Services, a leading HR & Recruitment consultancy firm based in Westlands. Through personalized career coaching he assists mid-level and senior professionals get solutions to complex and challenging career issues that they are facing. Click here for more on career coaching.