EC Harris assistant project manager Shyam Visavadia opens up on why he believes his move to the Middle East has accelerated his career
With less than two years of experience in project management, Shyam Visavadia took his career into his own hands when an opportunity arose to relocate from the UK to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on a permanent transfer.
The opportunity became available after Shyam took part in a one week transfer programme to Shanghai and Hong Kong, to which his employer EC Harris, as an ARCADIS company, is party. The leading built asset design and consultancy firm has a global presence and the Arcadis Quest programme offers its people the opportunity to visit and work in any office around the world to share and collaborate on best practice.
“At that point, I realised the value of international experience and wanted to gain further exposure in a dynamic and competitive market outside the UK. For young Generation Y professionals, this is the time to take these chances as we are less bound to long-term commitments,” he says.
Shyam was also partially convinced by what he read in industry magazines, the people he met at networking events and a general inquisitiveness of what a career in the built environment could offer. His long term aspiration is to develop his career with ARCADIS and says that moving to the Middle East could offer him the ideal setting for this. He credits the change for greatly accelerating his skills, personal brand and professional network
So what do you need to be aware of before considering moving to the region?
Shyam sits in the major projects team helping to deliver key developments and programmes for both regional and international clients, which primarily comprises government authorities and multinational firms.
“The majority of these organisations employ primarily expatriates so it is fairly easy to communicate with people; English is the business language in the Middle East therefore I personally have not experienced a significant language barrier,” he says.
However, it still holds true to many Islamic rules, and those living and working in the Middle East should be culturally aware of what is acceptable and what is not, he cautions. Before moving, Shyam conducted desk research to better understand the region.
“Most businesses operate Sunday to Thursday with weekends being Friday and Saturday. In some public areas men and women are segregated, such as in waiting areas or in the metro ‘women and children only’ carriages,” he explains. “Prayer calls are sounded five times a day but you quickly become used to this once you are settled into UAE life.”
On a practical level, accommodation rental is paid in cheques, paid in differing instalments over the year. “In some cases, you may be expected to pay a whole year’s rent in one single payment!”
Overall, Shyam believes that the Middle East offers young professionals a good work/life balance.
“This move has really changed my outlook on life as I work with different cultures from around the world. I am participating in new social activities and am based in the hub between east and west, making world travel more convenient!”
As the administrator of Graduate Surveyors on LinkedIn, Shyam believes that young professionals are not intimidated by travelling to attain their career goals. “If you have a strong passion for your work and believe that the offer is good, go after that opportunity. You can always convince yourself ‘it is not the right time’, but if you don’t act you will always be left wondering.”
Prior to relocating, Shyam was led to believe it would be very difficult without formal RICS qualifications. However, the opposite is true, he says. “RICS Middle East has a great support network and the transition of your membership and APC registration is fairly easy. It provides candidates with a superior service to help attain full membership. This is reinforced by the RICS Matrics (ME) commitment to help young professionals with their APC development”.
For those thinking of taking their career abroad, Shyam offers three pieces of advice. Work out whether you can afford to live in that city, and how you will financially support yourself. Will your employer help you with relocation including transfers, resident’s visas, and personal finance advice? Finally, what is the fundamental reason for moving - have a clear plan of what you want to achieve to ensure that the decision is a rational one.