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Author: Barney Ely, Director at Hays. October 2015

In 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced an ambitious idea: to revive the ancient trade routes that stretched from China through the Middle East and into Europe, and thus create a New Silk Road. This concept is spawning a range of initiatives designed to create business and cultural links.

One such project, Dubai Business Internships (DBI), has created an opportunity for Chinese graduates to travel west to study and do business in the emirate. But the ultimate goal is far more ambitious: to bridge the gap between what industry wants and what education delivers, and to forge strong links between China and Dubai.

Finding future leaders

Now in its second year, DBI has accepted 28 young Chinese nationals, either recent graduates or young people with up to three years’ work experience. The participants undertake an internship with Dubai-based leaders in various sectors, including trade, tourism, finance, law and logistics. They also receive formal management training and an introduction to the culture of Dubai and the wider MENA region.

Hays was tasked with the challenge of presenting Falcon and Associates, facilitators of DBI, with a select pool of talent for the programme’s second intake, starting in October 2015.

“It’s a stringent recruitment process,” says Sarah Jones, Business Director, Hays North China. “We receive thousands of applicants. We’re looking for superstars, and that’s not a tangible quality. All the applicants are exceptionally bright, many have already launched their own businesses, some have represented China in sport – but even that is not enough.”

Working closely with the DBI team throughout the process, Hays developed a comprehensive and strategic recruitment campaign. Given the intense competition to gain a place on the programme, it’s not surprising that the successful candidates are keenly aware of the value of the experience.

Sunny Jie Feng, whose background is in biomedical engineering, entered the DBI programme after she had completed a Masters in Industrial Economics at Southeast University. “The programme teaches you how to give the best of yourself – it allows you to grow but also forces you to,” she says. “It has been life-changing for me.”

Mutual benefit

It’s not only the candidates who stand to gain from the programme. For the partner organisations that offer the work experience element of the programme – which include The Emirates Group, the hospitality company Jumeirah Group and real estate firm EMAAR – there are tangible advantages to participating.

“The feedback we have received about DBI so far has been very positive indeed,” says James Maughan, Director – Dubai Business Internships, Falcon and Associates. “The interns were placed in departments where they could spread their wings and contribute, and they were hungry to do the job.”

“But what is perhaps most valuable is the insight they bring,” he continues. “These are companies that are doing business with China – they need to understand the country and its people in order to tailor their offer. The candidates provided an amazing insight – one partner commented that it was more valuable than anything a management consultancy could have provided.”

Even following China’s recent stock market jitters and fiscal slump, its economy remains the world’s second largest. Its influence on the world stage shows no sign of waning, so it’s hard to imagine the burgeoning relationship between China and Dubai cooling any time soon. And perhaps there are lessons to be learned for the west from Dubai’s embrace of Chinese talent and commitment to forging links with the business leaders of the future.