By Jamilah Samian
Picture yourself at the age of 75. Compare the image with the person you are now and think of what it takes to get there. Such are the thought-provoking challenges put to participants of the career workshops for partners in the move held in Muscat, Oman, recently.
That many an expatriate partner gives up his or her career to preserve the family unit when a Shell employee is given an overseas posting is a fact which is increasingly gaining prominence in the international circuit.
“Spouses contribute greatly to the success of an employee’s assignment,” says Kathleen van der Wilk Carlton, Manager of the Spouse Employment Center in The Hague. “Shell recognizes the fact that when you move an expatriate, you move a family.”
How did the workshops come about?
“When we first started the Spouse Employment Center, we thought there were sufficient companies on the external market offering careers courses, at least in the major base countries,” explains Kathleen. “Over time, we realized that they did not meet the special needs of the expatriate spouse and that only a handful of spouses followed such courses. By contrast, our customer survey confirmed that there was a need to complement our individual services and so we decided to develop courses ourselves.”
Cooperation between MINCO and SEC
“At the same time, Mies Grijns, special projects member for MINCO (Muscat Information Network Center Oman), was convinced that there was a need for careers courses in Oman and her enthusiasm largely contributed to gaining support for us to run them locally.”
The successful organization of the courses marked a first for MINCO which had, until then, only catered for MINCO members. “Mies, Sabine Vahrenkamp and others in MINCO worked very hard to make the whole thing run smoothly,” says Kathleen.
What makes the workshops different?
Fifty-five spouses from almost ten nationalities and a wide range of professional backgrounds took part. Each of the five modules had to be run two or three times over four days because of the huge interest. There was also an opportunity for participants to speak individually with the visiting trainers. “Sharing experiences and networking with other spouses who face the same challenges were very stimulating and made me realize I wasn’t alone in my aspirations,” said Sharinaz Shafie from Kuala Lumpur, who attended the course.
Apart from enabling participants to have a clearer picture of themselves in career terms, the workshops gave them the opportunity to assess their priorities within their lives on the move. Participants learned how to manage their careers, actively search for a job in a new area and improve their CV writing and interview skills. In short, the workshops helped them feel confident enough to make a change in their current lifestyle – if and when they feel ready to do so – and gave them the tools to do so.
One question that immediately pops into mind, when faced with the prospect of relocating is, “What’s in it for me?”
“Plenty,” says Claire Ford, one of the workshop trainers. “Partners can develop a broader perspective of their own culture and become competent at managing change for themselves and for others, whether they enjoy the experience or not.”
And what kind of career is most suited for a woman on the move?
“Any opportunity that allows them flexibility, keeps them interested and motivated, stretches them mentally and gives them a sense of achievement would fit the bill perfectly.”
With constraints posed by the internal labour market, there is a widespread impression that it is extremely difficult for an expatriate spouse to work inOman. “The truth is,” says Mies Grijns, “there is so much opportunity to develop oneself, especially in terms of education.” Sabine, for instance, discovered “a number of spouses working here. There are also lots of courses and colleges available for further studies.”
Published in Destinations (Shell global family magazine), 2001