Gulf construction firms continue to hire, despite oil slump

Posted on September 16, 2015

  • CEOs and senior executives from leading construction firms in the Gulf debated key employment challenges facing the industry in an event hosted by GulfTalent

  • Recruitment is less intense, but remains robust. Finding the right talent continues to be a challenge in some Gulf countries

Construction companies across the Gulf region continue to seek talent for their projects, according to a panel of company directors from the construction sector who spoke at a leading industry event held in Dubai yesterday.

The event was organised by GulfTalent in Dubai. It was attended by over 50 delegates, including CEOs, Human Resource Directors and other senior executives from the region’s largest construction companies and related advisory firms. The discussion panel consisted of senior executives from Amana Contracting, ARCADIS EC Harris, Laing O’Rourke, Al Tamimi & Company, as well as GulfTalent.

The panel found that, with public sector spending under pressure from lower oil prices, award of new construction projects had slowed down. However, previously awarded projects were continuing without impact. As a result, the sector is facing a continued need for skilled staff across most roles and specialisations, albeit at a more moderate pace than a year ago.

UAE most attractive market for talent

According to the panel, the UAE remains the easiest market for hiring expatriate talent, while Saudi Arabia is the most challenging. One panel member reported having to decline lucrative projects in Saudi Arabia, due to not having sufficient staff. As a result, construction professionals are offered the region’s highest salaries in Saudi Arabia.

The Middle East region, as a whole, remains an attractive destination for construction professionals globally, according to the panel, especially in the context of a slowdown in Asia and other emerging markets. For employers targeting this pool, the rising cost of living in the region, especially housing and school fees, is a concern, exacerbated by recent cuts in subsidies. Media coverage of armed conflict in parts of the region had heightened perceptions of regional risk among some potential candidates, some employers reported, although overall interest in the region remained strong.

Visa restrictions

Several employers present reported facing challenges in filling their vacancies due to restrictions on employment of certain nationalities in parts of the Gulf region. While over the long run, they could switch to alternative sources of talent, they found it particularly challenging when such policy changes were introduced at short notice. One speaker described the challenge of adapting to changing visa legislation as 'following a moving target'.

Attracting Gulf nationals

On the subject of attracting local talent, firms faced the biggest challenge in Saudi Arabia and Oman, where nationalisation targets are higher and are most rigorously enforced. Panelists cited an ‘inaccurate’ image of the construction sector among nationals as a key obstacle to attracting them, on top of the general shortage of skilled nationals in the engineering domain. One speaker mentioned that “For many young people, their image of a career in construction is someone pouring concrete on a hot day, whereas in reality our roles are much more diverse. The private sector, the industry associations and the governments all need to work together to change such perceptions”.

The panel also complained that the region’s construction sector was not investing sufficiently in the development of young talent. This was driven in part by the extreme competitiveness of the market and high price-sensitivity of clients. The 'project-based' nature of the construction business in the region made it even harder to plan for the long term and invest in developing talent over many years. As a result, graduate programmes were far less prevalent in the Gulf than in other parts of the world. Instead, many construction firms rely heavily on rapid hiring of experienced staff on a ‘just-in-time’ basis when they win projects, and trimming down staff numbers quickly when projects come to an end.

The event was part of GulfTalent’s Business Leaders Forum series, where the region’s senior business leaders gather to discuss employment issues affecting their industry.

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Comments (7)

Mohamed Ali Abdelhamid
HR Manager | Saudi Arabia

The most important an urgent issue is to try to skill national citizen of GCC to go for engineering and technical fields, but it is a along run issue, as it needs committed programs to change GCC youth trend, to accept enrolment in such programs.

The other thing but in a short run, to arrange with the authorities in GCC country to make some change to their policies concerning recruiting of expatriates, and the possibilities of moving and transferring the work force between companies.

Posted on 29 Sep 2015

Khalid Maniar
Managing Partner | Horwath Mak | UAE

Excellent briefing. Some issues are inherent with construction industry which may only be addressed with minimal success.Need of resources in emergency was not sufficiently discussed with solution e.g. a resource pool company from where workers can be hired @ minimal cost. Visa restriction issue is now addressed to some extent by the new changes in labour law.

Posted on 29 Sep 2015

Project Manager | Greenhook Prime Services Nigeria limited | Nigeria

This will really help the industry.

Posted on 29 Sep 2015

Tariq Ejaz

After 35 years of service with a leading bank, I retired in 2013 and since then am involved in export of Pakistani labor to Gulf. I can only speak about Pakistan.

Wages are too low and do not match with the Pakistan wage scale, e.g the average daily earning of a floor tile fixer (good skill worker) is between US$ 20 to 30. Now overseas people ask some thing around AED 950 p.m and top of that the promoters demands US $ 1200 for the job and other exp. For this salary you can't get good skill worker, it will all be helpers.

Posted on 29 Sep 2015

Kraiem Ali

Although recruitment in GCC still be the most attractive in the world according to the salary and other benefits, as an Arabian candidate, I couldn't be competitive against American or European one not specially by better skills but because they are membership in international companies.

Posted on 30 Sep 2015

T K Pal
Ex General Manager and Business Head | Gulf Lime LLC, Abu Dhabi | India

It is interesting to note that now talent from local origin is in search and hopefully, in future the restriction will be more for VISA related issues for foreign citizen.

However, my experience of working in Gulf reveals that to reduce the cost of employment, they should slowly reduce dependency on talent from Europe and America however for specialist job they need to take support from India and Pakistan.

Posted on 30 Sep 2015

Lawrence Lloyd
Managing Director | Accustomed Risk Management Systems | South Africa

The industry is really not there for education and training. The contractors are there to produce and compete. They will not or do not have the resources to upgrade skill or take any internships in, as it eats from the bottom line. There are companies like mine that take in young people who want to be trained in certain fields and we spend time with them, and try to place them within companies. The majority then go and work for those companies who denied them an opportunity.

Posted on 30 Sep 2015

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