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The Gulf's HR directors must innovate to attract talent

In-house training and professional development programmes will help construction companies not only attract talent but also upskill their workforce, experts tell Construction Week

SPECIAL REPORTS, Sectors, Construction, Gcc, HR directors, Marcus Taylor, Recruitment, Taylor Sterling Associates (TSA)

Construction companies wanting to retain high-performing employees must look into helping their staff develop professionally.

Speaking to Construction Week, Marcus Taylor offers this advice, noting that the benefits of implementing in-house training programmes go beyond cutting recruitments costs and the time it takes to get new employees up to speed on company and industry standards and policies.

“It [results in] significant loyalty from the team, which is a difficult goal to achieve,” he explains. “Some of the hardest candidates to attract are those who have developed within a company, year after year.”

According to the managing partner of Taylor Sterling Associates (TSA), a consultancy firm that specialises in engineering and construction recruitment, putting together sufficient manpower to meet project requirements is a hurdle that many contractors in the Middle East are facing at the moment.

He elaborates: “As much as we are hearing that projects and schedules are on track, they simply aren’t, causing a lack of workforce planning. This, coupled with the ongoing battle with costs, is going to [result in] a lot of guesswork, where companies load one position with an increasing number of responsibilities.”

Remarking that the problem is not limited to the difficulty in quickly mobilising a large workforce, he continues: “The talent pool of semi-skilled [workers] is running dry. The good news is that there are a few companies out there investing in overseas training facilities for their needs – a very shrewd move, in my view.”

Other than investing in training facilities, Taylor suggests companies work on improving their reputation in the industry in order to attract top talent. “Build a profile and use [the] media to tell your story. Not everybody wants to join a big company, but [everybody] wants to join a team of forward-thinking professionals. Talk to a public relations (PR) firm and come up with your story. It’s not too expensive, and is very effective.”

Turning his attention to the topic of industry trends in hiring and training activities, TSA’s managing partner notes that 2017 was primarily defined by a move towards recruitment partnerships, with companies “passing workforce planning to specialists rather than [...] generalists”.

“We are hoping to see recruitment partnerships develop, so projects won’t be stalled by shortages in headcount and skillset requirements,” he says.

According to Emma Seymour, human resources (HR) director for construction at Al Naboodah Group Enterprises (ANGE), the Middle East saw a number of trends in recruitment and training emerge last year – the same trends she’s expecting to observe this year. Citing artificial intelligence (AI) as an example, she tells Construction Week: “A big priority for HR is figuring out how to re-organise teams and processes to make the best use of new AI technology.”

Construction companies, she continues, are also leveraging digital platforms, and investing more into not just their people but also their brand and culture.

“The greater trend in business is the shift to service-focussed, customer-centric solutions, requiring ‘always on’ digital business models,” she explains. “This results in a flatter organisation with more dynamic roles, which means more people need to be reskilled.

“[Moreover,] HR has to deliver a compelling response to the demands of the modern employee. Company growth goes hand-in-hand with employee growth, and companies need to answer to the needs of employees at all levels to stay competitive.”

Relaying an observation that backs Taylor’s point about the need for companies to strengthen their profile within the industry, Seymour names “creative recruiting and talent management” as another trend, which “involves investing in brand presence, developing networks, and assessing new talent markets”.

“The market is shifting in 2018,” she says, pointing out that there’s greater demand for fresh talent with a progressive and dynamic mindset,” she says.

“These individuals bring in the best international work practices, can adapt to working in the Middle East and its fast-paced environment, and have the patience to deal with bureaucracy.”

But it’s not only the company requirements that are changing. According to Seymour, employee expectations are also undergoing transformation, an issue that the industry has to address.

“A major challenge is the change in demands from employees,” she says, clarifying: “Education has improved significantly, as have the expectations of our workforce – there is no longer a job for life. Retention is becoming absolutely  key to the success of any organisation, and employees are becoming more aware of the social impact their employers make, and consider this when [deciding whether] to stay with them.

“Development and welfare are significant priorities, and companies must maintain their reputation and social standing to continue to attract competent employees,” adds Seymour.

Offering his take on the topic of change in the region’s recruitment landscape and the importance of in-house training schemes, Rob Jackson, director of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) operation of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), tells Construction Week: “The region’s construction and real estate market is maturing rapidly, and the knowledge and skillset of professionals in the sector are also changing. With this growth, it has become a challenge to source professionals in the market who match the evolving job descriptions.

Jackson, elaborating on the skills that are seeing high demand in the market, says that soft skills, including communication and negotiation, are becoming more valuable in many professional careers. “From a technical perspective, we see increased demand for experienced quantity surveyors and project managers, and for professionals trained in alternative dispute resolution – such as mediation, expert determination, and arbitration – and conflict avoidance.”

He further notes that with the use of building information modelling (BIM) gaining traction in the industry, construction professionals cannot afford to remain ill-informed of “the whole life cycle costing experience” and unaware of the importance of maintaining a clear link between the construction and operational phases of projects.

Reiterating a point that his peers have made about how training initiatives benefit companies and the region’s construction sector in general, Jackson concludes: “With such a multinational workforce, it is critical that companies drive consistency and professionalism, which would lead to better client service, reduced risk, and improved efficiency and performance.

“As the regional and global markets recover, the ‘war for talent’ will become more prevalent, hence structured and well-considered in-house training will be a key factor in attracting and retaining talent, and enabling continuous upskilling to suit the changing market requirements and standards.”

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