UAE's first woman crane operator: It is my calling

Abu Dhabi Ports and Abu Dhabi Terminals is 'committed to empowering Emirati talent'

Ayesha Hassan AbdulRahman Al Marzooqi: the UAE's first female crane operator.
Ayesha Hassan AbdulRahman Al Marzooqi: the UAE's first female crane operator.

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She could have stayed a clerical worker in a convenient and well-furnished office environment, but Ayesha Hassan AbdulRahman Al Marzooqi chose differently. The 28-year old Emirati was looking for a new challenge and a hands-on position that was different from anything she had done before.

Today, Ayesha works at Abu Dhabi Ports’ flagship Khalifa Port, the first semi-automated port in the GCC region and one of the most technologically advanced ports around the globe. But that’s not all: the employee of Abu Dhabi Terminals (ADT), the manager and operator of Khalifa Port container terminal, is the first female quay crane operator in the UAE and controls one of the port’s gigantic super-post-Panamax cranes.

With a height of 126.5m and a weight of 1,932 tons, the super-post-Panamax crane is one of the largest and most modern ship-to-shore quay crane in the world today. The crane is used to unload container vessels and has an outreach of 65m (22 containers) and a lifting capacity of 90 tons – the same weight as 48 four-wheel drives.

Ayesha is a trainee and in the final phase of her training programme, which allows her to work independently on the port site. Her workplace is a small, see-through cabin right underneath the crane’s boom, some 60m above the ground. From here, she overlooks the container vessel beneath her feet and directs the spreader, a specialied tool which is connected via several steel ropes to the crane’s framework.

As part of the unloading process, Ayesha lowers the spreader on top of the ship where it grabs and locks onto one of the containers. By pulling the steel ropes, she carefully lifts the container and then slowly manoeuvres it onto the dockside. Depending on the vessel size, up to six quay cranes operators work simultaneously in a row of six cranes and unload a container ship, guaranteeing the fastest turnaround time possible.

From the dockside, the containers are picked up by straddle carriers and dropped off at the so-called waterside transfer zone. From here, the Automated Stacking Cranes (ASCs) move the containers to Khalifa Port’s dedicated container yard, where they are loaded onto trucks and then taken to the desired location.

“I watched a documentary about a female pilot in the UAE Air Force who truly inspired me. Before I started my training at Khalifa Port container terminal, I was given a tour of the port facilities and the ship-to-shore quay cranes really fascinated me. I felt this was my calling and I decided to become a crane operator”, the young woman explains.

As soon as her parents approved her ambition, there was no holding back, and a few days later, Ayesha started her training programme at ADT. As a trainee she works in four-hour shifts from 8am until 4pm, five days a week. At present, ADT’s container terminal operation is achieving a crane productivity of no less than 34 gross moves per hour (gmph), which marks an increase of 36% since September 2012, when the port commenced operations Each month the port’s productivity increases, with a record number of containers handled in December last year, a total of 132,339 TEUs - the highest number of containers ever handled in the emirate in a single month.

Ayesha is one of 23 Emirati trainees, including four other women, who are currently taking part in the ADT training programme that is being conducted by ADT’s internationally certified and experienced in-house instructors. The programme covers the different tasks and role functions at the container terminal.

In addition to the practical and on-the-job training, Ayesha has learned about the port fundamentals, such as the overall infrastructure of Khalifa Port and its present handling capacity (2.5 million containers per year), as well as health and safety procedures. As a port is a high risk work environment, the young woman knows how crucial it is to strictly follow these procedures to minimize the safety hazards.

“As the Middle East develops into one of the top global trade lanes, the local maritime industry promises significant growth. In order to cater for this growth, Abu Dhabi Ports is focused on the recruitment and development of Emiratis to build the next generation of highly qualified maritime professionals to support the diversification of the economy for the future of this country”, says Capt. Mohamed Juma Al Shamisi, CEO, Abu Dhabi Ports.

“One of ADT’s top strategic priorities has always been to train and develop Emiratis to join the fast growing ports industry. As a result of this, we have almost double the number of Emirati nationals within a year; ranging from senior and middle management to supervisory and practical roles”, says Eisa Hassan Al Marzooqi, Senior HR Director, ADT.

“Our comprehensive on-the-job training for Emiratis started two years ago and we are immense proud that Ayesha Al Marzooqi joined ADT to become the first female Emirati crane operator”, adds Al Marzouqi

“ADT is delighted that Ayesha has made history by becoming the first female Emirati crane operator. Being an innovative ports operating company, we are dedicated to the development of UAE talent and will continue to create new job openings. It is our continued ambition that our Emirati training programme grows each year along with the significant growth of ADT”, says Martijn van de Linde, CEO, ADT.

Developing Emirati talent is also a core objective of Abu Dhabi Ports, the owner of Khalifa Port and all of the other non-oil and –gas ports in the emirate. Abu Dhabi Ports is strongly committed to the Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030 and it is a key business strategy of the organisation to support UAE nationals in their career aspirations. In a country, in which expatriates form the majority of the population, this is a crucial undertaking in the process of establishing an independent national workforce.

In 2014, Abu Dhabi Ports made significant progress in creating sustainable employment opportunities for Emiratis and achieved an Emiratisation level of 44% across its total workforce. This rate is expected to rise to 47% in 2015.
These plans coincide with Abu Dhabi Ports’ commitment to the Absher initiative which was introduced by the UAE Ministry of Public Affairs in 2013. As part of the nation-wide campaign, Abu Dhabi Ports is working to create job vacancies across all of its business units for 300 unemployed Emiratis over the next five years.

To support the new jobs for UAE nationals, Abu Dhabi Ports has designed comprehensive training programmes across the full employment spectrum. The majority of these programmes are being taught at the company’s state-of-the-art Maritime Training Center in Musaffah which complies with ISO quality criteria and has been certified by the Lloyd’s Register (LR) group as an approved training provider.

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The training programmes are world-class, internationally accredited courses that are a first in the entire Gulf region. These courses not only give the participants the possibility to grow, personally and professionally, but are part of Abu Dhabi Ports’ wider strategy to position Abu Dhabi as a global maritime hub in the region.

Equipped with a high tech computer laboratory, classrooms and conference facilities, as well as various cutting edge vessel and navigation simulators, the course offerings range from ship master and pilot training to security, health and safety training, and the training of non-technical skills, such as communication and management skills.

Most recently, Abu Dhabi Ports has launched an additional training programme called “The National Way to Ramp Up Success” – in short NAWRUS. It is an innovative programme to promote excellence and specifically train UAE nationals for roles in cargo operations, such as port supervisors, port operators and clerks. The first group of 21 Emiratis joined NAWRUS last December and a second group of 19 Emirati trainees joined the programme in January.

NAWRUS includes extensive practical training and eight weeks of English language training at the UAE Academy, as English is the language of international shipping. A dedicated coach teaches the trainees on-the-job related tasks, while a mentor supports them on the soft skills and the performance culture of the company.

A further initiative of Abu Dhabi Ports has been the introduction of the “Port International Executive Road” (PIER) programme. The programme focusses on identifying high potential Emirati employees and has been designed to enhance their readiness for leadership positions. The programme will “fast-track” these employees into senior roles over the next four years.

“Abu Dhabi Ports’ employment and training initiatives are an essential part of the organisation’s Emiratisation strategy. But all of these undertakings would not be successful without the collaboration of various government entities and educational institutions, like the Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT) Abu Dhabi, as well as our participation in a wide range of job fairs and recruitment events.”

“These collaborations and exhibition platforms give us the opportunity to personally communicate with Emirati job seekers and find out about their career aspirations. This helps us design our tailored training programmes for the numerous jobs across all of our Abu Dhabi ports”, explains Capt. Al Shamisi.

In September 2014, Abu Dhabi Ports and ADT ran a full-day recruitment event which was organised with the Abu Dhabi Tawteen Council, the government employment agency for Emirati job seekers. Abu Dhabi Ports and ADT were looking to fill around 80 job openings in the field of port operations and invited UAE nationals to presentations and one-on-one meetings with industry professionals and members of the human resources department.

"As part of the UAE’s ongoing commitment to Emiratisation, ADT has successfully implemented various tactics to attract a strong, qualified Emirati workforce. Working in the operations department at Khalifa Port Container Terminal requires excellent technical and hands-on skills and we take pleasure in recruiting and training a talented group of male and female Emiratis for these important positions”, adds Ahmed Al Mutawa, Director Container Terminal Operations, ADT.

One of the many UAE nationals who attended the recruitment event was Ayesha. She took the chance to meet professionals and get insights into the maritime industry, one of the most important industries in the UAE and around the world. Today, the young woman’s story is another success story in the country’s Emiratisation process.

“I am very happy to be part of this exciting industry and grateful to be given so much support and assistance. By being the first female quay crane operator in the UAE, I hope I will inspire other Emiratis to follow their ambitions, take on challenges and serve their country”, says Ayesha who will be finishing her training programme to become a certified quay crane operator in a few weeks’ time, ahead of schedule.

 

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