What skills are most in demand, and where are the gaps?
Written communication skills are in very high demand. While locals can often speak fairly well and communicate verbally without issue, their written skills are sometimes below what is demanded in professional settings. To address this gap, we offer courses in business writing. For example, while many locals use email often for informal purposes, our courses bring their writing and structure to a much more businesslike level. Intermediate computer skills are also in demand. While almost everyone has basic computer skills, we target our courses to move employees beyond basic word processing and emailing. Our language courses in Kurdish and Arabic for expats are also popular.

Can you tell us about your cultural awareness courses?
Cultural awareness is very important, particularly to the oil and gas industry, and cultural awareness has become the most demanded subset of courses we teach. On job sites, at rigs and production facilities, people work in isolated, close quarters for weeks at a time. This creates significant potential for clashes from religious or cultural differences or misunderstandings. Companies are therefore making cultural awareness much more of a priority, and we cater to this need with courses that explain western norms to locals, as well as local religious and Kurdish values to expats. Related to this, we offer popular courses for expats and their spouses combining cultural awareness with basic information on integrating socially and living in Kurdistan, such as where to buy groceries and supplies, find schools for their children and how to develop social support and social networks.

Cultural awareness is very important, particularly to the oil and gas industry, and cultural awareness has become the most demanded subset of courses we teach.

Can you tell us about some of the MNR’s large-scale training programs that MSelect is involved in?
The MNR is currently initiating training for its own employees—of which it has several thousand. Part of the funding comes though the oil companies, which allocate a certain percentage of their revenues specifically for training when they sign production-sharing contracts (PSCs) with the MNR. The program will be comprehensive, and include internships and summer study as well. We are already providing such an internship program for a major oil operator, where we will identify current students or recent graduates who are looking to break into the energy sector, but do not yet have sufficient experience, and place them with one of the world’s premier international oil companies to gain hands-on experience.

MSelect is also involved in the International Finance Corporation’s ‘Business Edge’ training program. Can you tell us about it?
Business Edge is a program of the World Bank's International Finance Corporation (IFC). The IFC facilitates business training programs in 30 developing countries, in 10 languages, covering 59 separate topics under seven headings, such as HR, bookkeeping, governance, hospitality, and personal productivity, among others. Of those, at least 36 have been translated into Arabic, and MSelect has been approached to translate some of the courses into Kurdish. Two of our trainers have already become certified by the IFC as Business Edge trainers. They are trilingual in English, Kurdish and Arabic, so they can conduct courses in any of those languages, throughout the Kurdistan Region and Iraq.

What edge does your Center have by operating under MSelect rather than a university or standalone training company?
When we established the Center, we already had a clientele of over 300 companies in the Region. We initially established the Center when many of our existing clients requested training courses from us, and since we have begun offering courses, our existing clients have largely driven our expansion. Becoming a vendor to an oil company requires significant effort, which we initially completed to become a staffing company. Having already become an approved vendor, we can now provide several resources to oil companies, including training. However, we have also attracted many new clients on our own. In these cases sometimes our Training Center brings in clients to our staffing services. In this way, our staffing and training services work well in collaboration with one another—MSelect’s recruiters are essentially our sales staff, and vice-versa.