Interview: Abdulla Jassem Kalban
What is the long-term outlook for aluminium amid global protectionism and price volatility?
ABDULLA JASSEM KALBAN: EGA began production in 1979 at our Jebel Ali smelter, which was then known as Dubai Aluminium, so we have been in this business for almost four decades. Although political issues are leading to some volatility in the global market at the moment, I believe the long-term fundamentals are as strong today as they have ever been. The reason for this is because aluminium is needed for a broad range of industries. It is used in construction, transportation systems, packaging and electronics – that means aluminium is required for many products and much of the infrastructure that people and nations require as their economies develop.
Furthermore, aluminium is a lightweight material and the fact that it is recyclable means that it is more environmentally responsible than some alternatives. In construction we see increasing demand for green buildings, with aluminium as a material of choice for these structures. Similarly, cars made with the metal are lighter and therefore more capable of meeting fuel-efficiency standards. As a company we do not make public predictions about the outlook of the aluminium market; however, industry observers believe that demand for aluminium could increase by up to 50% over the next decade.
How does the development of local downstream subsectors benefit producers?
KALBAN: There are currently 26 domestic companies making products using EGA’s output. We supply about 10% of our aluminium to customers in the UAE. Proximity reduces transportation costs, and thus environmental emissions. For example, our customers in the Khalifa Industrial Zone Abu Dhabi receive aluminium via a “hot metal road”, which eliminates the need for them to use large amounts of energy to re-melt metal before use. The growth of any sector encourages more people to choose to work in the industry, this in turn fosters the expansion of a specialised local supply.
EGA’s growth since the 1970s has contributed to the development of a range of sectors in the UAE, from catering to construction, and this continues today. Furthermore, the growth of the broader sector around us also benefits EGA as a company. As a corporate citizen of the UAE we are pleased that aluminium and the opportunities provided by the expansion of the industry’s supply chain can contribute to economic diversification.
To what extent does the expansion of the aluminium industry offer opportunities for local talent?
KALBAN: Currently some 30,000 people work in the UAE’s aluminium sector. This makes it the largest employer among the country’s energy-intensive industries. Furthermore, around 7000 of those people work at our company. Performance and growth have always been driven by a strong workforce, including local talent. For this reason we have focused on attracting capable people and providing them with opportunities to develop themselves throughout their careers.
For example, we currently have more than 120 participants in our 18-month graduate trainee programme. In addition to this, we provide 2500 management training courses each year through our company training centre, with the training that we provide being internationally accredited.
Many employees choose to stay with us for significant portions of their careers – in fact more than 600 people have worked at the company for at least 25 years. Furthermore, we have one of the highest rates of Emiratisation of any major company in the UAE. Building upon this, we aim to Emiratise around 40% of all in-focus positions – which are the type of jobs that can feasibly be Emiratised – by 2020.
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