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A generation comes of age

Emirates Global Aluminium’s Youth Council is stepping up to the challenge of leadership in one of the UAE’s biggest industrial companies

Zainab AlHammadi is a Senior Engineer at Emirates Global Aluminium. She joined the industrial giant four years ago, right after completing her degree in mechanical engineering with an EGA scholarship.

The 26-year-old is not alone in being a young person in a senior role at EGA - 40 percent of the company are under the age of 35, and 36 percent of work in operations. And this is not by chance - EGA has a policy of encouraging young, talented employees to shine; a process that has been amplified by the establishment of an EGA Youth Council at the company.

Youth councils were initially established at a federal level in 2016 as an initiative by the United Arab Emirates’ leadership to empower Emirati youth to lead the world in every sphere of society.

After the establishment of the national Emirates Youth Council, local councils in each Emirate were set up. Following this success, the model was adopted by federal entities, which in turn led to the establishment of youth councils in companies.

EGA opened applications for its own youth council in late 2018, with UAE National employees between the ages of 18 and 35 encouraged to put their names forward. Nine representatives were chosen including Zainab.

“We met with the Managing Director & CEO [Abdulla Kalban] in late 2018 and early 2019 and he was as passionate as we are about empowering youth in the company and engaging with us through events, talks, workshops, and team building exercises. He asked us to prepare a plan of activities for the year, which we did, and over the subsequent months we initiated a successful series of events.”

One of the highlights was a Worker Appreciation Day, linked to the Year of Tolerance, where around 700 blue-collar employees and contractors, including gardeners, serving staff and janitors, were invited for a weekend day of activities and games hosted by the EGA Youth Council. Zainab notes that the Managing Director & CEO came to show his support. EGA’s Youth Council also took part in a football championship where eight Youth Councils from across the UAE came together for a three-day tournament at Dubai Sports World, a summer indoor sporting facility sponsored by EGA. The event was organised by EGA’s Youth Council members, and, as Zainab jokes, aside from the fact that ADNOC’s team triumphed, the event was a big success and an excellent team bonding opportunity.

Zainab also mentions the Connecting Minds series, which she describes as “informative, inspiring sessions where we propose a subject relevant to the youth and our daily lives. We've discussed topics like work-life balance, and further educational initiatives, seeing as EGA sponsors employees to do their Master’s degrees.”

The leadership of EGA has also been encouraging the empowerment of talented UAE Nationals in the company's day-to-day operations. “There is definitely a culture of encouraging new ideas,” says Zainab. “We've had full support from everyone from the Managing Director & CEO down. We are given amazing opportunities that challenge us technically, and also challenge our leadership skills. One of my colleagues, who is 32 and a mechanical engineer, was recently put in charge of an H-class power block project. This is a big responsibility and showed the faith that EGA places in young talent when we have earned it.”

The important role of young people at EGA was demonstrated on 12 November when, to celebrate the company’s 40th anniversary, the EGA Youth Council proposed that shift rosters were re-organised so the supervisors on duty for every step of EGA’s production process were young UAE Nationals. This showed that youth are ready and willing to assume the huge responsibility of producing the 7,000 tonnes of aluminium that leaves the gates of EGA each day.

More generally, Zainab says she witnesses “knowledge transfer” from the company’s long-serving employees to a newer generation. She says that an atmosphere of encouragement has accompanied this process, especially as many of the veterans began decades ago as young recruits themselves.

On a personal level, Zainab says she loves the challenges and unique opportunities that come with a career at EGA, especially in her field of work. “When you're in the operations side, you start your day at 7am, out in the field, with a safety talk, dressed in your personal protective equipment. It's not your typical job, it’s really unique, and it makes you proud to come to work. And for the youth coming into the company, it's challenging at the beginning, but you leave every day with a sense of accomplishment. When you understand the magnitude of what we do here, how our metal makes modern life possible worldwide, you feel you are part of something big, and your role is a vital link in the chain.”