The Middle East has long been recognised as a wealthy business hub for global conglomerates looking to expand their operations, which in recent years has led to a plethora of music, media and live events companies emerging in the region.
While the commercial nature of such businesses has brought tremendous scope for growth across many business sectors, this development has also brought to light some key infrastructure requirements needed to support the expansion of such industries, in particular sufficient numbers of skilled staff.
S&S speaks to industry leaders and investigates what companies are doing to ensure the industry is equipped with skilled personnel to cope with the current and future staffing needs of the burgeoning music, media and live events scene in the Middle East.
According to Giorgio Ungania, corporate training and marketing manager for SAE International Institute in Dubai, in years gone by the Middle East has suffered with a deficiency of locally skilled music/media industry personnel, but he says educators like SAE are helping to change that.
With 52 campuses worldwide, SAE Institute has established itself as the world's largest audio, film, animation and multimedia training provider and offers recognised degree, diploma and certificate qualifications.
In 2006 SAE opened its doors in the Middle East, with its first campus in Dubai.
Since that time SAE has expanded its presence in the region with additional institutes in Jordan and Kuwait, in 2007. It also has plans to open more campuses in Cairo and Beirut, and to expand its presence in Dubai with an additional campus in Studio City, by the end of 2009.
More than 850 students are currently enrolled with SAE throughout the region, which is a good sign the local industry is equipping itself to cater for the growing demand from businesses, according to Ungania.
"The problem with the Middle East market is that for years, there has been a lack of properly trained and skilled people in these fields, which has resulted in much of the industry's work being outsourced to overseas companies," he says.
Additionally, he claims this did nothing to improve the reputation of the Middle East industry, nor did it facilitate the creation of new jobs or local revenue streams.
With the growing emergence of these conglomerates in the region it quickly became evident to educators that adequate training infrastructure needed to be implemented if the Middle East wanted to ensure the continued growth of the booming industry in this part of the world.
"SAE and other training companies in the region recognised the growing need to produce locally trained staff. Now that we have been here a few years we are seeing the fruits of our work, which is generating a solid amount of skilled graduates that are fully equipped to meet the growing demands of the industry," Ungania says.
"One of the benefits of studying with a specialised trainer like SAE, is that from day one our students begin simulating the real workplace. Although all of the theory components are covered in the course, what is really important, especially for broadcasters and creative departments, is that our students can produce some genuine output."
Ungania says unfortunately it is commonplace for companies, regardless of the nature of their business, to try and save money by internally training their own staff, especially in the broadcasting and live events sectors.
He says this problem is further escalated when companies employ inexperienced people and provide them with very basic training, which means not only are they ill-equipped to carry out their specific job, but fail to understand how the industry works as a whole.
"This is something that has been happening for a long time, but many companies are now realising that instead of saving money by employing someone less skilled, it is costing them money," Ungania claims.
"Because the amount of time senior staff have to spend training juniors is very unproductive to the business and actually ends up costing the company more in lost production than it would to send the individual to a specialised training centre."
To meet the changing needs of the industry SAE employs regularly updated curriculum that is driven by industry demand and to ensure students are kept up-to-date with the latest technologies, SAE installs the latest equipment in its campuses.
"Our job is to ensure that when our students graduate they are able to adapt to and utilise the ever changing technology and demands the industry requires and this is an important asset that future employers look for," Ungania says.
"Around 85% of our graduates land jobs within the media field, including TV broadcasting, professional recording studios, video production and radio - this will only continue to grow."
To get students "job-ready" and help them integrate from a study into a work environment, all students who undertake a degree with SAE complete a 120 hour internship whereby they are sent to work with companies to gain a "real hands-on experience".
Ungania says the internship process has proved to be instrumental in establishing a positive relationship between SAE and the "live" industry.
"SAE has earned the reputation as the leading trainer provider within the industry, we now have companies approaching us looking to place our students in specific positions and that is very positive."
"The industry is flourishing here and there are more and more enterprises moving to the Middle East, so we will continue to see a future demand for skilled personnel."
Although the UAE has a strong international focus, one of the key areas Ungania identifies as prominent for communication businesses in this part of the world, is the need to cater for to local communities.
"It is a vital element for the local industry to have its students trained and retained here," he says.
"Being able to train and retain Arab students is a huge plus for the region because many people are still required to be able to speak Arabic in the workplace."
Ungania says while dialect continues to evolve in the region it is a "huge benefit" for employers to hire people, who can speak the native tongue because the Middle East still faces language barriers and this is an industry where clear communication is imperative.
The key word in the world of the this industry is originality and Ungania says there is a growing demand from Middle East companies seeking original content to be provided and produced locally.
"This is especially being seen from TV broadcasters because they're realising they can create local content with a limited budget and then broadcast it globally. So, many companies are now looking to nurture the local talent and to engage them in creating something that the Arab world is ready to receive," he claims.
Ungania says one of the key challenges SAE has faced and is working to change in the region, is to educate employers of the importance in hiring people for their skill set not their personal connections.
"It is common for employers in the Middle East to hire people they are connected with, but don't generally have the skills required to do the job," he says.
"Companies that employ on this basis are costing themselves money because it's more beneficial to employ less people, but trained people, who can actually do the job effectively and professionally."
"I have found a big part of changing the way things operate here is to break the mentality of employers and get them to realise the potential talent that is at their fingertips."
"How we are doing this is by providing companies with local students, who are also affordable because they are just entering the industry, but more importantly have the skills, energy and will power to make things happen, and at the end of the day will become a huge asset to the company."
Ungania says SAE has also developed a corporate training program, under the banner of SAE International, to provide individual training requirements and solutions to Middle East businesses.
"The corporate training arm of SAE is growing massively. We deliver both in-house and onsite training, which caters for the hectic nature of business here in Dubai. We are seeing companies interested in developing short, but specific training on core business areas rather than having their staff undertake a year-long diploma," he claims.
As a globally renowned manufacturer of aluminium truss systems, Prolyte is a firm believer in education and runs regular training courses.
Prolyte Middle East general manager Riham Abuelem, says Prolyte provides product expertise and advanced technical background to product managers, customers, users, and installers to enable safer working conditions, shorter production time, increased efficiency and enhanced responsibility.
"There are numerous examples where things have gone wrong in the industry all because people did not install the rigging equipment properly," Abuelem says.
"Prolyte has established the training program because we believe promoting safety is more important than selling the product and while we emphasise on having a quality product, it is more important to ensure people are not jeopardising the safety of others."
Prolyte provides training courses worldwide, run in cooperation with Rhinus Bakker, managing director of Netherlands based company Rhino Rigs, and it is the second year the training has been held in Dubai.
The five-day rigging training seminar covers the basic theoretical rigging skills, including risk assessment, rigging basics, calculations, PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), hoist technology and controllers, as well as a hands-on workshop and truss technology.
Bakker is a respected pioneer in entertainment rigging industry in Europe and has been active in developing a number of rigging training courses over the past 20 years. He is also the co-founder of the Association of Riggers and Ground riggers in The Netherlands, which was formed in 1998.
He claims rigging is a well-known term in the entertainment industry, but actual awareness of the technical implications of temporary lifting installations is seldom found.
With a long-time working experience in the entertainment branch Bakker not only knows the ins and outs of the profession, but also has a primary awareness that professional skills and know-how are paramount to any technician or rigger.
"The training I employ has been personally developed from my years of experience within the industry," he says.
"When I started out there was no education for rigging training whatsoever, now days people have to have more specific knowledge because they can't just learn it on the job anymore as it's too dangerous."
Because Bakker educates riggers worldwide he needs to make his training universally adaptive and to do this he bases his core training around the key issues that effect the global rigging industry.
"To develop my training I look at how the industry operates in other countries, but generally all the problems in this industry are identical wherever you go," he claims.
"It's impossible to try and learn all the local rules and regulations of each country, so I found the best way to adapt the training is to educate people from the ground-up using key product lines, which mainly come from manufacturers in the US and Europe.
"So, while talking about materials and working methods, I discuss the regulations and issues in Europe and the US and then tailor the training to address any additional challenges that are faced in a particular region."
Unfortunately the training Bakker provides is not accredited, although he has petitioned to have his programme formally recognised, but as yet he has found no resolution.
"I tried to get the training accredited in The Netherlands with the Ministry of Education, which put me onto the Dutch Ministry of Labour, which led to a bureaucratic pitfall of being tossed from one department to another," he says.
"I then went to the Dutch Certification Body to try and have the course certified, but that was a money pitfall that would have made the cost of training four times as expensive and if I had to increase it nobody would be able to afford to be trained, so there would be no point."
Bakker is currently working to obtain formal industry recognition of the training in The Netherlands, which he says will be similar to the National Rigging Certificate that has been developed in the UK.
The Professional Lighting and Sound Association (PLASA) National Rigging Certificate is an industry recognised award that allows people to demonstrate they have attained a professional standard within their chosen rigging discipline.
Once qualified, the candidate is awarded a certificate and a skills-based photo ID card for the level achieved (with four levels in total).
The award is underpinned by a qualification gained through assessment against a set of written measurable national occupational standards. The standards are owned by the government and incorporated into a qualification by PLASA.
Bakker says these standards are essential as they are applied and used for qualifications across many other industries and give entertainment rigging a recognised status as a profession.
Bakker is also involved in several standardisation platforms on a national and international level, working to establish standardisation for the operation of equipment used in the entertainment industry.
He is a member of the Dutch Standardisation institute (NEN) and the CWA25 committee, which is part of the European Committee for Standardisation (CEN), which forms part of the National Standards Organisations of 30 European countries.
Bakker is also an observing member of the (ANSI).
"The last meeting of the CWA25 committee was held in March this year, which established a list of Pre Standards for the entertainment industry. We are now waiting for the final Pre Standards document to be printed, which will then be distributed to all the European National Members for discussion and implementation."
Bakker estimates that an international set of standards will be formalised for the rigging industry within the next five to 10 years, which will require a valid training certificate as an industry standard.
"We have standards in place for how equipment is designed to meet safety specifications, the next step is to establish how we should train people, to what level they should be trained and how to standardise it," Bakker says.
"It shouldn't be that we have to wait for a fatal accident to happen before the people in power make decisions to implement essential training."
Bakker says as the entertainment industry is on the rise in the Middle East, so too is the need for Middle Eastern entertainment businesses to work together -to establish a set of industry standards.
"In the Middle East I've found I really have to convince companies to unite with each other, which is concerning. Although they may be competitors within the industry and will always be, they have a common interest to get standards in place," he says.
"People in the Middle East industry still have the same attitude that we did (The Netherlands) 15 years ago that the introduction of standards will never happen in this region.
"But in general I think the standardisation of industry regulations will come into place in much less time than what it has taken us in The Netherlands.
"It has taken us 20 years to get to where we are now with talking to standardisation bodies and government representatives, so I'm sure if Middle East companies are able to unite they can collectively approach the government about putting measures in place or establishing some form of industry training that is recognised as a national accreditation."
While it is only the second year Bakker has held the course in the UAE, he says he expects to see real changes in the industry within five years.
But, before the local industry can move forward Bakker highlights some key issues that need to be addressed.
He says he has received feedback from people working in the industry that claim there are issues regarding installing in venues in the Middle East.
"I understand that staging companies are required to present certification for equipment when installing in venues, which is fine, but when in turn they request structural information on individual venues they can't get an answer, which is ridiculous in my view," Bakker states.
"For example where people are asked to hang equipment they need to know what the weight limit of the roof structure is in order to do the right calculations. People need to know what the requirements of the venues they will be working in are."
In the UK, Bakker says regulations are in place requiring venue operators to supply structural information to anyone installing equipment, which is essential to reduce potential risks.
He says the only way to overcome this problem in the Middle East is for everyone in the industry, from promoters, who hire the venues through to the rental companies and equipment installers, to abide by a standard set of procedures.
"There is no point having a set of standards that is only followed by half the industry because it won't work," Bakker states.
"Additionally, it's important to not only educate people about their immediate job, but to also provide them with a good general knowledge of what goes on beyond it. They need to understand what they are doing and why they are doing it - this not only ensures safe equipment handling and efficiency, but also due care of the equipment to guarantee its longevity."
In addition to formal training courses in the Middle East, distributors have also been stepping up to the plate and providing end users with specific product training seminars.
Nicolas Kyvernitis Electronics Enterprises (NMK), are distributors of Shure microphones and audio electronics in the UAE, Bahrain, Qatar and Oman, and regularly hold product training seminars for its local client base.
In July, NMK held a two-day seminar, which attracted more than 50 attendees.
The seminar covered microphone theory, wired products, wireless technology and provided in-depth information on the new Shure UHF-R system.
NMK, in conjunction with Shure, has invested greatly in product training seminars, according to Chicco Hiranandani, business development manager for NMK.
"It is obvious that our industry is growing rapidly and unfortunately there are not enough people with the necessary knowledge or experience to meet the demand. Hence it's in our best interest to train people in the niche industry, as it will help support the positive growth of a small but booming field," Hiranandani says.
Another distributor working to increase product awareness in the Middle East is GSL Professional, which recently held its first Road Show, in association with Harman Pro.
GSL used the Dubai event as a platform for training and developing relationships.
Audio engineer and director of UK based Adlib Audio, Dave Kay, was the guest speaker and was joined by Harman Pro professionals, who travelled from the US and Europe to also present on the day.
The seminar attracted 85 industry professionals. It focused on live performance audio using Harman Pro tour sound products and included special advanced topics on permanent installations.
"The program showcased a typical live performance stage with a typical concert-quality sound reinforcement system," says GSL Professional sales and marketing manager, Stacey Lewis.
Historically, the entertainment industry has operated under a sink or swim attitude in regards to staff training. It is encouraging to see this trend is subsiding and that the industry is now using training methods, which employ theoretical and calculation backgrounds and risk analysis assessments, so event staff can do their job both efficiently and safely.