Meeting challenges ahead

If anyone was in doubt about the long-term future of the Middle East's construction industry, two events this month should have proved reassuring.

COMMENT, MEP

If anyone was in doubt about the long-term future of the Middle East's construction industry, two events this month should have proved reassuring.

The annual business-to-business property exhibition, Cityscape Dubai, provided a stark reminder about just how much work is planned for the entire region. Over the past year we've all heard about individual upcoming projects as they have been announced, but when details of the planned developments were collated under one roof, the sheer volume of work that is due to be undertaken over the next decade was staggering.

Stand after stand at the event displayed scale models of major new developments that are under design or already underway on site. Visitors flocked to Nakheel's futuristic map of Dubai, which was as impressive for the enormity of planned change in the Emirate's landscape as it was in the detail shown. And it's not just Dubai's built environment that is set to increase dramatically. Every country in the region was represented at the event, from the other Emirates such as Abu Dhabi, to Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

In a second demonstration of the future work available, Dubai-based research company Proleads released market data showing that the real estate development in the GCC Countries is now valued at over US $1 trillion (AED3.7 trillion). Industry intelligence showed that there are currently 885 active projects in the region, with the largest percentage accounted for by the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

So there will continue to be work available, that is certain. The big question is: who is going to do it?

Due to chronic skills shortages worldwide, finding and retaining suitably trained staff is a problem for the construction and engineering sectors. And nowhere is likely to suffer the effects of this more over the next few years than those Gulf-based countries whose economies are booming.

Years of inadequate training programmes and a general disinterest in the construction sector from school-leavers over the past two decades are now having a profound effect on the global industry. The combined number of qualified staff available worldwide is not even close to the number of positions available.

Those that meet the industry needs can almost name their price, but what does this do to project costs? Firms can only pay a certain salary level if they are to maintain budgets, but without the staff the projects are impossible to build, creating a Catch-22 situation. If the models displayed this month are to become reality, the industry as a whole must waken up and start training seriously today.

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