Case Study: Cambridge Regional College

Building relationships - the key to success to working in Saudi Arabia

Dr Amina Wakefield, Head of International Office, Cambridge Regional College advises that even those with a successful track record in Saudi Arabia can benefit from working with TVET UK. She also has some useful advice for those who are not quite so experienced.

Saudi Arabia is an established market for Cambridge Regional College with more than 5000 Saudi students studying with the college in the UK and in country. The college’s international team has been working there since 1991, and Head of International Office, Dr Amina Wakefield, travels there three or four times each year.

The Saudi market is built on personal relationships. They need to understand you and establish trust before they are ready to discuss business matters.

Experience has enabled Amina to develop a sound understanding of the market, and she advises that it takes time to cultivate relationships and achieve results. She advises: ‘The Saudi market is built on personal relationships. They need to understand you and establish trust before they are ready to discuss business matters. In the educational world there is pressure on budgets and a push for fast results. But you need to be patient. It’s not just a card swapping exercise, or maybe posting a brochure. You need to follow up in person; phone their mobiles, go and see them, learn about them – and don’t push for business until at least the third meeting. It may take up to five years to break into the market, but it will bring rewards.’

Amina usually travels independently to follow up on established leads, but decided to join the TVET UK mission to Saudi Arabia in October 2011 to speak at their seminar, which was hosted by the Technical Vocational Training Council (TVTC) and opened by the Minister of Labour in Riyadh – and she is delighted she did so. ‘I wasn’t expecting to come home with a signed agreement, just hoping to identify new contacts and new opportunities. That’s what TVET UK is all about – opening doors and introducing members to the right people. It’s up to you to convert the opportunities into contracts – and some markets are easier than others.’

The seminar was attended by ministers, college principals and other decision-makers ready to work with the UK and, Amina advises, ‘when you have high level meetings with ministers and principals, this actually gives you status and establishes your reputation.’

She explains: ‘I had had a relationship with a consultancy for a number of years but up until October there had been no business forthcoming. However, one of the consultancy team saw me speaking at the seminar and that certainly awakened the dormant partner! I was collected from the seminar and taken directly to their offices. I was advised that they had a proposal to discuss and was invited back the next day. So, I immediately cleared my diary. In this market, you need to be flexible and be able to recognise a good lead. If someone’s sending a car and asking me to sign an agreement – I go!’

Amina has now signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the consultancy to provide training for nursery nurses and fitness instructors across the Kingdom. She says: ‘When I asked what prompted the organisation to take action after all this time. He said that one of his colleagues told him that he had seen me at the seminar, and he had decided that if I was good enough for the Minister of Labour – I was good enough for them!’

A recent visit from a TVET UK inward mission has led to further success with Saudi Arabian clients for Amina and the college. The delegation included an institute that Amina hadn’t worked with before but she kept in touch after the visit and has now been asked to develop and implement six programmes for the new academic year in September. She says: ‘I made sure that I provided responses to their queries straight away, had regular email contact and had three face to face visits over eight weeks. I was advised that it was this level of contact and communication that had led to the contract. Now, within just eight weeks, we are developing short technical programmes in hospitality, construction, engineering, English language, travel and tourism.’

‘I suppose the point I am trying to make is that TVET UK is not just for new comers; those who are experienced in international business development, and well-established in international markets, can also benefit. TVET UK makes the introductions – it’s up to you to continue the conversation!’

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