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Low-cost training for Dubai startups

Jul 1, 2019 | Business and Leadership Skills

Training staff is great for business. It motivates employees, boosts retention and drives efficiency. But what if you’re a cash-strapped startup?

Is it possible, or even advisable, to invest in staff training on a bootstrapped budget? The simple answer is yes! Especially here in the UAE where staff retention is a big issue.

You need a clear plan of attack to reap the rewards of low-cost learning and development programmes. Here’s a step-by-step guide to creating a highly-trained, highly motivated workforce without spending a fortune.

1. Identify your needs

An alarming 69% of businesses expect to encounter some form of skills shortages over the next 12 months, according to the latest Gulf Cooperation Council Salary and Employment Report by global recruitment firm Hays. Nearly 70% of organisations blame ‘competition from other employers’ hiring the talent that they are after, or a ‘shortage of suitable applicants’ in the local market.

Thus, the pressure on employers to upskill is greater than ever. But before startups embark on training programmes, even free ones, it is vital to understand what skills employees are lacking and what knowledge they need to perform effectively.

The most thorough way to do this is to conduct a needs analysis to find out the difference between actual performance and expected performance.

The most thorough way to do this is to conduct a needs analysis to find out the difference between actual performance and expected performance.

Among the many types of needs analysis are:

  • Organisational analysis – what are you trying to accomplish with your startup?
  • People-based assessments – who would benefit most from training and what are their learning styles?
  • Task-based checks – what are the main duties and the skill levels required?
  • Cost benefit analysis – what’s the ROI of training?

Since a startup’s budget is likely to be restricted, it’s important to focus on the most important skills staff need to perform well. If professional support is too costly, carry out your own assessments using methods such as questionnaires, consultation, interviews, focus groups, surveys and work samples.

2. Look online for training  

More than four-fifths of organisations worldwide had challenges retaining staff in 2016, according to a survey by the Chartered Institute of Professional Development and recruitment firm Hays. The most popular step taken to improve staff retention was through increasing learning and development opportunities (57%).


If training is the best way to keep talent, it’s surely a must for startups where the loss of key people could be disastrous at the critical early growth stage. And herein lies the dilemma for cash-strapped new enterprises.

Online training can provide a cost-effective option for startups without the physical space and funds to host ‘live’ training. The advantage for employees is they can train at home or at their desk while employers can train just a few staff at a time without breaking the bank. Another benefit is that the material can be used more than once to train additional employees at little or no cost. Also, startups don’t need to use up valuable staff time providing the training.

3. Train from within your company 

Entrepreneurs may not have the resources to bring in outside experts, like industry influencers or training professionals. The low-cost answer to your training needs may actually lie within by encouraging the most skilled or experienced employees to train up other staff, or by pairing employees to learn from each other.

As well as being cost-effective, this option allows employees to design and deliver tailor-made training programmes. It can help the ‘trainer’ develop their communication skills while fostering a sharing, learning and bonding environment. This, in turn, will help employees feel more valued and may boost retention in the longer-term.

4. Get expert local support

While online training is cost-effective, you can’t beat expert local support, especially from other entrepreneurs with first-hand experience in the UAE.

The good news in the Emirates is that there is a wealth of support available for free or at marginal cost, including startup networks and educational events. This support ranges from training on how to launch a startup to forums on finding and utilising training opportunities for employees.

Trade associations such as Dubai Chamber of Commerce and its startup offshoot (Dubai Startup Hub) can provide access to low-cost training opportunities, as can conferences and seminars.

Entrepreneurs often overlook their own training when launching a new venture. Dubai Startup Weekends provide an answer. These 54-hour events are designed to provide ‘superior experiential education’ for technical and non-technical entrepreneurs. They include pitches, business plan development, prototype creation, demos and presentations. Participants hear talks by industry leaders and receive valuable feedback from local entrepreneurs.

Startup Grind Dubai holds monthly talks with inspirational locally based entrepreneurs. Part of the world’s largest startup community and powered by Global for Entrepreneurs, it has more than 2,600 members in the UAE and connects 400,000 founders in over 200 cities and 85 countries.

5. Share resources with other startups 

When resources are tight, one option worth considering is partnering other startups or small businesses to provide learning and development. This will bring down training costs per head. Alternatively, try a skills swap to share knowledge and experience with another organisation. This can also be another way of motivating staff.

Investigate training opportunities with any companies your startup has contact with, including investors and suppliers. Find out if they run in-house training programmes that employees could piggyback on.

6. Measure all training results

Apart from asking the trainer and trainee how it went following a training session, how do you know if the objectives of the learning and development intiative have been met?


Trainingindustry.com, the online learning specialist, advises it is important to make training a partnership and to demonstrate that the training is for the mutual benefit of employer and employee. ‘That shared mindset’, it says, ‘improves the odds that you will uncover important data points to measure’. This is particularly important for startups without the cash to splash out on extensive learner analytics.

In its guide on how to measure training effectively, Trainingindustry.com also recommends:

  • Be clear about what you are measuring and why
  • Connect learning to performance
  • Start with the data you already have
  • Keep it simple

If employees consistently underperform in tests or if staff performance in specific tasks fails to improve significantly despite being trained in those tasks, it suggests the material or training method isn’t working, and changes are necessary.

Christopher Pappas, Founder of eLearning Industry, the largest online community of professionals of its type, says: “When it comes to eLearning, content means everything. If eLearning content is not masterfully designed, all the rest will just go down the drain.” In fact, the same can be said for any form of ‘live’ training too.

7. Spread the word of your training opportunities to others

Startups that provide employees with access to high quality training are few and far between. Those that do have a clear competitive advantage. Why not publicise the training opportunities and benefits with targeted PR?

Tell the local business community about multiple benefits of providing training. This should help attract new talent and retain existing staff at the most important phase of a company’s development. It will impress clients, prospects, suppliers and other stakeholders, and will build confidence in a business.

Don’t stop there!

While training is clearly important for both employers and employees, it shouldn’t be treated in isolation. Nurturing motivated staff is essential for startups, especially here in the UAE where retention continues to be a major challenge.

Startups need to consider different ways to create a happy, stable workforce, and to help persuade employees to stay put even when competitors may offer a higher salary.

Startups need to consider different ways to create a happy, stable workforce, and to help persuade employees to stay put even when competitors may offer a higher salary.

In his book Happy Working Relationships, shortlisted for the Chartered Management Institute Management Book of the Year 2018, Simon Jones likens staff relationships to a happy marriage. He reminds us that the two key components for a successful relationship are trust and communication, but many business owners forget this. He rightly states that small businesses must be crystal clear about job roles and ensuring the right people are employed to do the right jobs. Trust and communication doesn’t cost anything. It’s just common sense.

Involving staff in the development of the company is critical for any business serious about creating a motivated workforce. Startups and small businesses have an advantage here in that it should be easy to involve employees in the company’s evolution, simply because of the size of the company.

Startup Donut, the online resource for new and small enterprises, says recognition and appreciation is also important. This is about understanding people. In an article entitled How to Motivate Staff When Money is Tight, the SME expert states: ‘Some staff love public shows of appreciation while others would hate to be in the spotlight. In small firms, the MD usually knows the staff well and it’s easier to tailor rewards to the individual.’

Providing quality training and keeping staff motivated is no easy task, especially for cash-strapped startups in the UAE, but the rewards for both employer and employees are clearly worth it. Not only will it help build trust and confidence, it will help improve individual performance, increase competitiveness and boost retention beyond the norm.

Setting up your own business has never been easier. Virtuzone takes care of it all so you can focus on what matters – building your business. For more information about company formation in the UAE mainland or free zones, please call us on +971 4 457 8200, send an email to info@virtuzone.com, or click here.

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