Analysis: Show me the money

The resurgent construction sector has created a more fluid jobs market

Dateline Doha Packages for workers in Qatar (pictured) and Saudi Arabia need to be higher to compete with UAE.
Dateline Doha Packages for workers in Qatar (pictured) and Saudi Arabia need to be higher to compete with UAE.

The resurgence of the region’s contracting sector and a growing project pipeline has created a much more fluid job market, a new Construction Week Survey has found.

Almost half of construction workers in the Gulf Co-Operation Countries (GCC) will be seeking new roles in the next year, according to a survey conducted exclusively by Construction Week.

Of the 334 participants who responded, 48% said they were planning a move in the next 12 months and 18% had already moved jobs in the past year.

The recent growth in the GCC’s construction market is showing no signs of abating, with an anticipated 22% increase in
contract awards expected in 2014 up to $195.87bn.

“It continues to gather momentum, resulting in a big increase in recruitment across the main areas,” said Phil Carr,
managing director at ICP Gulf and a recruitment manager for contractor ALEC.

Unsurprisingly, career progression and salary topped the list of reasons why people look for a new job, with security and respect close behind, and 84% consider the UAE as one of the most attractive places to find this.

“The UAE is by far the most westernised, relaxed and enjoyable place to live within the GCC region, whether you are a single person or with your family,” said Carr.

“It caters for all types and is hugely developed ahead of the rest of the areas with regards to quality of living.”
Qatar was second, but only half as popular, with 41% of participants saying they would consider opportunities there.

Saudi Arabia was seen as a potential destination by 28% of those surveyed and 20% would consider Oman. Only 10% were interested in roles in Bahrain. A country full of expats, the UAE population is already by its nature quite transient. Couple that with the number of new projects, employment opportunities are increasingly bountiful.

So what can employers in the surrounding countries do to secure their share of the cream of the construction industry crop?
“Make the packages more attractive – bigger salaries, more flights home, more days off,” said Carr.

“There are plenty of people that put this ahead of any lifestyle, working or general conditions and will happily go anywhere for the right money.”

In light of the flurry of project launches, 74% of construction professionals believe there are more opportunities now than this time last year, while 21% consider opportunities to be about the same. Just 5% believe there are fewer roles available.

“There are 100% more options in the GCC market at present compared to 12 months ago,” said Tim Clark, a partner at Dubai-based recruitment firm NSR Associates.

Dubai Expo 2020, Qatar’s 2022 World Cup, and the projects that stopped during the crash, such as Nakheel’s The World and Palm Deira, which are now being rekindled, will require mammoth workforces.

“There seems to be a far more positive view on the general market,” said Clark.

“In terms of projects awarded, we have seen Qatar push forward on awards ranging from $1bn-4.5bn, which has an immediate impact on recruitment requirements for employers.”

But despite this, securing the ideal job is not necessarily easier. With competitors announcing new projects which bring with them the tempting employment contracts, employers know it is vital they recruit the correct worker, and loyalty is top of their requirements.

“They’re more cautious, and rightly so,” said Edward Twaite, regional managing director of Menasa and Partners, which offers executive-level search/recruitment services across the region.

“So companies can apply better, more stringent screening to candidates; more reference checking and tougher interviews to make sure the candidates are definitely interested.”

However, employers are still faced with the challenge of a market in which candidates can afford to be select. Twaite agrees that contractors outside the UAE need to offer attractive packages, including bonuses upon project completion, but also believes in educating candidates about the benefits of the traditionally less-popular areas.

“It doesn’t always have to focus on money – it could be career development,” he said.

“It’s going to get harder and harder as the UAE picks up, so we’re actively trying to do things [to combat that].

“A lot of it is educating people and sharing with them what Saudi and Qatar are like. Some of these candidates aren’t so accustomed to the Middle East and they really don’t know what to expect.”

With that in mind, he advises job hunters do thorough research and remain open-minded and he ensures all his staff visit the countries where their clients are enabling them to best advise candidates.

“To a degree, all of the other countries are more ‘emerging’ than the UAE. Saudi and Qatar have a lot of potential in terms of new projects coming through,” he continued.

Tom Loseby, an associate director for construction at Charterhouse Middle East, agrees.

“While the UAE is alluring to regionally and internationally-based candidates, there is, at times, a disconnect between people’s perceived expectations and the reality of packages on offer. This, quite often, is the trade-off for the openness and cosmopolitan nature of UAE, which people still crave.

“In contrast, Saudi Arabia and Qatar can have greater barriers to entry, linked to cultural components and immigration policy. So, to cater for the increased demand, packages need to reflect the available and applicable pool of candidates accessible for these markets.

“For the right candidate, these two markets present both exciting, and financially-rewarding opportunity.”

He advises employers remain open to international as well as regional talent.

The surge in the market is undoubtedly positive, but for employers and employees to get the best out of the boom, a flexible attitude towards individual markets could bring substantial benefits.

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