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News feature: Nationalisation in construction

How the sector is contributing to GCC nationalisation efforts

ANALYSIS, Projects

Attracting nationals into the workforce is an increasingly important focus for firms across the GCC.

In the construction sector, various initiatives are underway in a bid to help ensure nationals have the relevant skills and professional or vocational training.

In Kuwait, construction consultancy Faithful + Gould is running a scheme to train young Kuwaiti engineers for roles within the emirate’s Ministry of Public Works (MPW).

“The main challenge in Kuwait comes from working as an international company, where our project agreement with MPW requires experienced professionals with at least 15 years’ experience – five years of which are in a Western country,” explains Paul Woutersen, project director at Faithful + Gould.

Woutersen admits it is challenging to recruit nationals with internationally-recognised professional qualifications and the required experience, and says the training of MPW’s professionals is part of a wider initiative in Kuwait where incoming consultancies are required to contribute to the country’s investment in training.

“Our project with MPW is to develop a project control system,” says Woutersen.

“The agreement requires us to train selected MPW staff in the use of the system and the techniques embedded in it. Our team of 45 project managers are working closely with MPW to ensure significant legacy benefits.

“The resulting PMO [project management office] capability will enable MPW to exercise ongoing control throughout the project lifecycle, including efficient operation and maintenance of completed projects,” he adds.

The initiative was launched in May 2012 and focuses on project management, targeting a wide spectrum of MPW project engineers. Training comprises formal classroom sessions, informal workshops, presentations and on-the-job learning, and is delivered in the Faithful + Gould training suites as well as MPW offices.

Although the project is still ongoing (it runs until November 2014), Woutersen says feedback from training sessions have been positive and encouraging.

“Initially, 180 staff were identified by MPW for training, but eventually in the order of 230 staff undertook the formal classroom training for project engineers. To date, over 350 MPW staff in total has taken part in at least one of the sessions,” he adds.

“The training of local professionals is vital to the success of this project and highlights MPW’s determination to embed the new system and practices into their construction industry,” he adds.

Meanwhile, in KSA, a levy imposed upon contractors under the Ministry of Labour’s Nitaqat programme has placed the Saudisation drive firmly at the forefront of the kingdom’s construction sector.

This, combined with a large-scale exodus of illegal expat workers at the end of last year, which delayed work at countless job sites, has prompted many of the kingdom’s major contractors to set up their own training initiatives.

Riyadh-based Alfanar Construction, which has just concluded its Project Management Academy (PMA) programme for its first batch of six students. The two-year programme is aimed at targeting future leaders and providing them with the necessary business, leadership, technical and personnel skills.

“The initiative allows the company to transfer knowledge and experience acquired through its large portfolio of major projects to our promising new generation of engineers,” said Eng. Abdullah Al Hammad, president of Alfanar Construction.

Although the first batch of six graduates has largely been made up of non-Saudi staff including Jordanians, Syrians and Egyptians, the initiative is one of a number the company has embarked upon with a view to improving skills and opportunities among young Saudis.

It also owns a large complex of factories producing electrical equipment on the outskirts of Riyadh, which provides rare opportunities in the workplace for Saudi women on assembly lines.

Saudi Oger, one of the country’s biggest main contractors, has developed its own training institute in Riyadh, which also has a separate college for training women.

Nesma & Partners, too, is another Saudi contractor which has built its own training facilities based in its home city of Al Khobar in the Eastern Province. The institute has a capacity to train up to 800 students per year – mainly high school graduates learning skills like carpentry, electricals, welding and scaffold erection. Those carrying out the teaching are generally fellow Saudis who have been working with the company for years.

“We have a well-established nationalisation of jobs programme,” says CEO Imad Gholmieh (above). “Our Nesma Training Institute graduates several Saudi young people every year.”

In the UAE, meanwhile, Amana Contracting and Steel Buildings recruits candidates from across the GCC and wider Middle East region as part of the firm’s well-established training programme.

“We take at least 30-40 fresh graduates every year, whether civil engineers, quantity surveyors or different engineering disciplines,” explains COO Riad Bsaibes.

Targeting graduates from specific universities, including the American University of Sharjah, American University of Beirut, Qatar University and Jordan University of Science and Technology, Amana Contracting has a structured training programme in place that lasts for 18 months. Graduates then move up the ranks, becoming project engineers, construction managers and eventually project managers.

He goes on to say that Saudisation in particular forms a significant element of its approach. “In Saudi Arabia, we recruit from local universities and use the same process. The Saudisation programme for us is in full swing and is an important part of our recruitment drive.

“In Saudi Arabia we focus on two aspects: One is the locals who have graduated there; but we also advertise, recruit and track Saudis who are studying abroad, for example in the US, the UK and Australia.”

Imdaad is another firm which has been strategically pursuing the UAE’s Emiratisation programme.

The integrated facilities management company recently took part in Careers UAE 2014, a job fair held in Dubai earlier this year focusing specifically on recruitment, education and training roles exclusively for Emiratis.

“Events such as Careers UAE play a significant role in presenting employment opportunities for UAE nationals,” said Imdaad’s director of human capital, Ali Ahli.

Aside from the careers event, he reveals Imdaad is also pursuing its Emiratisation policy by continuously discovering, recruiting and training local talents for its UAE offices.

“We constantly work on the skills and talents of our Emirati employees as a vital part of their training and advancement; therefore, we hope to increase the number of UAE nationals in our workforce.”

He says Imdaad has devised and implemented its own talent development plan for Emiratis, designed to help them evolve and progress within the industry.

“We have a customised training programme for high school students, diploma holders and university graduates in order to get the maximum benefit out of it. Starting from classroom sessions to work placements and on-the-job training with coaching and assignments, we prepare them for technical and business support as well as self-management and self-awareness,” adds Ahli.

Meanwhile in Oman, the National Aluminium Products Co (NAPCO) recently launched an initiative to get locals training as mechanical and electricial engineers through a dedicated, six-month programme.

The firm’s chairman, Sayyid Wasfi Jamshid Abdullah Al Said (above, right), said: “Upon completion, we will be offering candidates a chance to be part of the NAPCO workforce.

“Rest assured, we will continue to show our extensive support for this initiative and go beyond the requirement of a 35% Omani workforce in the near future.”

A construction director of one of the Sultanate’s leading construction firms, who did not wish to be named, admits more needs to be done to attract the best Omani talent to the private sector.

“We work closely with the Ministry of Manpower. However, I think there needs to be a more integrated approach,” he says.

“For us it’s a question of the availability of labour: When you talk about recruiting locally at the level of QS, for example, there are some very good Omanis, some of whom are maybe trained overseas, but generally we find their first choice of employer is with one of the government ministries.”

This is echoed by Bsaibes (above, left), who said Amana tries to boost its Emirati workforce, but faces stiff competition – especially for graduate engineers – from government and related entities.

“We try to (attract UAE nationals) but unfortunately these are few and far between. We cannot compete with the Mubadalas of the world, especially in Abu Dhabi,” he says.

Concerted efforts are being made within the construction industry to attract local talent, however the private sector faces stiff competition from the public sector, which is often seen by nationals as a preferable employment option.

With a number of firms across the region having set up divisions and programmes with the specific remit of recruiting and training nationals, only time will tell how effective these strategies prove to be in the long run.

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