Can higher salaries fix the Middle East's engineering skills gap?

Salary hikes will play a key role in the holistic staff management efforts needed to close the talent gap

Construction job salaries and training programmes are falling short of employee expectations in the Middle East [representational image].
Construction job salaries and training programmes are falling short of employee expectations in the Middle East [representational image].

The Middle East’s construction employers need to do more for their workforce in terms of salaries and career development, Construction Week studies have shown in 2018. Earlier this year, a survey conducted by CW found that the majority of regional construction professionals are unsatisfied with the level of training and upskilling opportunities offered by their employers.

Construction Week’s 2018 Skills Gap Survey found that of its 132 respondents from the region, nearly 72% believe their colleagues struggle to efficiently carry out their tasks, while only 33% said that their organisation provided training or professional development courses of some kind in the past year. Sixty-one percent of the respondents, which comprised professionals in quantity surveying, consulting, and contracting jobs, said they had not received any training or career development pointers at all in the last 12 months. Approximately 40% of respondents had not completed any training programmes, and a further 29% had received only up to two training sessions, during the period.

PODCAST: Skills gap in the Middle East

CW’s 2019 Skills Gap Survey will show if regional employers have picked up the slack in terms of training initiatives, but as the publication of our 2018 Salary Survey approaches, it appears that construction supervisors are yet to rethink their staff management plans. CW’s 2018 Salary Survey has received close to 100 responses so far, and early figures show that more than half of the study’s respondents expect to change jobs within the next year. A staggering percentage of the professionals say they do not expect a pay rise in the next 12 months, and 57% of the respondents have already been declined a pay rise by their employer.

While the construction industry is facing talent shortages around the world, increased salaries will play an important role in the holistic problem-solving approach that this situation demands. In the UAE, it is likely that the skilled labour gap across various industries will total $50bn (AED184bn) by 2030, management consulting firm Korn Ferry Middle East’s country chair and managing director, Jonathan Holmes, said at the Arabian Business Forum last week. Speaking at the event, Holmes added that organisations must focus on doing “more around people” to guard themselves against a shortage of trained workers – and the increased salaries that the remaining few skilled professionals will most likely demand in the future.

READ: CW's 2017 Salary Survey sheds light on GCC construction job trends

“Business leaders are a little delusional,” Holmes said. “Many think they have a solution, but paying inflated wages is not the ultimate solution. If you have a skills shortage, you will have a salary surge, which will cost more money and affect the viability of businesses to be successful.”

As in any other industry, professionals in the Middle East’s construction sector must not be incentivised and motivated solely on the premise that they have bills to pay. Such type of employee management may lead to cost savings in the short- to mid-term, but the longevity of a construction organisation relies on the cumulative knowledge of its staff. To ensure the future growth of an organisation, its ever-crucial engineering workforce must be trained regularly, and paid fairly. Regional industry bosses may soon find themselves dealing with inexperienced and under-skilled professionals if they forget this.

Construction Week’s 2018 Salary Survey will be published in the 1 December, 2018 issue of Construction Week. Responses are collected anonymously for the survey, which closes on 24 November, 2018, so have your say now before time runs out. Stay tuned to for exclusive previews and insights from the study. 

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