2009 Construction week Salary Survey

How much are you worth?

Are you being paid enough?
Are you being paid enough?

The results in detail

The first Construction Week salary survey was conducted via ConstructionWeekOnline.com, during April to September 2009.

These were the darkest days of the recession in the Gulf, with a sense that everyone was waiting to see what would happen. The mood was quite pessimistic.

Yet, despite the feeling at the time, the results show signs of optimism. Opinions on the likelihood of securing a pay rise, or even just retaining a job, are surprisingly positive.

Responses were voluntary and passively solicited. Respondents were not asked to provide their names or any contact details. Results were collected and collated by a third-party online provider.

A total of 1221 people took part. Not all answered every question. Invalid responses, such as selecting multiple age and salary brackets, have not been counted. Salary windows for specific positions are based on people identifying themselves by that job title.

Specialists in the field of recruitment and human resources have been consulted to verify the results and identify anomalies.

On the rise?
With any survey there are always anomalous results, but they are frequently the most interesting. They can demonstrate a gulf in perception between an individual’s view and that of the wider industry.

The starkest example of this in the CW salary survey was people’s expectations regarding pay rises. A staggering 61% of respondents believed they would receive a pay increase at some point within the next 12 months.

The response to this from experts CW consulted was a resounding ‘no way’, with no one prepared to believe that 61% of the industry would be getting a pay rise anytime soon. It was pointed out that it is easy to be cynical about people’s expectations, but that there could be some basis in the optimism.

Those that have held on to jobs may feel that if their company has looked after them so far, it may well do so again in the future.

While this is a nice idea, another result indicated that it is not a widely held view. When it came to questions of loyalty most people saw themselves as more loyal to their company than vice versa. But there is plenty of evidence that individuals can be prone to fickle changes.

“Your company is a vehicle to work on big projects and get good money,” said one recruitment expert.

“The last few years have proved that if you get offered a big salary increase, you are going to move. Alternatively, you only need the CEO or MD to change and the new guy might bring in his own people.”

So, while all of us may be inclined to believe we are more loyal than the companies we work for, the reality is far more likely to be determined by the opportunity to change jobs.

Companies may, however, be encouraged to be loyal to longer term employees, because of the cost of letting them go. Gratuity packages accrued over many years can add up to a significant capital outlay for a company.

Golden handcuffs
Loyalty is in large part derived from a combination of salary and perceived career opportunities. Oddly though, a large number of people who took part in the survey regarded their salary to be average or below.

Only 13% indicated they thought their earnings were above average, when compared to industry earnings around the globe.

An HR expert CW consulted described this as ‘absolute nonsense’. “I don’t know anybody here, who on a daily basis, is earning less than they would in their own country,” he said.

The perception that wages are below international levels seems to come from a sense of being hard done by, when compared to others. But, given that a large majority of the industry is made up of an expat workforce, why would people not move on to better paid jobs elsewhere, if rates in the Gulf were not competitive?

People who have worked in the region for three years or more are likely to have experienced increased salaries and benefits over that time, making it harder for them to find better paying positions elsewhere.

Package structure has had a part to play in this; as rent inflation forced accommodation allowances up, people considered these allowances as an integral part of their salary.

As companies struggled to deal with rent demands, packages migrated to lump sum structures, leaving employees to deal with rent independently.

The calmer mood of the employment market has benefited employers, who are now no longer having staff poached for huge increases in pay and benefits.

The result, say those in HR, is that now an employer can pay someone what they feel is the right money, rather than being a slave to the fluctuations of a supply and demand market.


Results indicated that bigger companies tend to pay more, though, while smaller companies aren’t quite as good for the average employee, they’re a good place to be for more senior professionals.

It was international companies that seemed to have the greatest impact on this trend, with a possible reason being the need to recruit staff familiar with global management systems and processes.

International companies need to employ people who can help make this happen, but also understand local conditions. As a result international companies appear to select their hires from a wider range of nations, whereas local companies show a greater concentration of employees originating from the Mena region.

Moving on
The nature of construction work in the region means that employees are not kept on stand by, but employed project by project. This explains why unpaid leave was not a big feature for any respondents.

When there is work, it goes at a fast pace. People reported long working hours (92% said more than 40), with plenty of six day weeks: 60-70 hours is considered ‘about average’.

Looking ahead, there are signs of change as projects are reactivated. This is generating more competition for available resources and, according to one recruiter, higher salaries are emerging – something in the order of 20% more than six months ago. This is an upward shift that some expect to continue into 2010.

A full report will be available at ConstructionWeekOnline.com in December.

Average basic salaries

Respondents were given the option of selecting salary windows to identify their pay level and job titles to identify their role. Averages have been worked out based on the lower and upper figures within those salary windows, with a midpoint of the average provided as a guide figure. All figures are in US dollars and represent basic monthly salaries across the six GCC countries.

All construction industry employees
Midpoint: $6047
The average salary of a construction industry employee is between $4849 and $7246 per month. The average salary drops to $5190 if executive positions such as CEO, managing director and general manager are removed from consideration.

Midpoint: $4500
The average salary of an architect is between $3643 and $5357 per month.

Civil engineer
Midpoint: $3370
On average, a civil engineer earns between $2573 and $4168 per month. If the top 20% of results is removed, the average drops to between $1818 and $3318, producing a midpoint of $2568.

Construction manager
Midpoint: $8750
A construction manager earns an average of between $7079 and $10,421 per month.

Cost estimator
Midpoint: $3904
A figure between $3095 and $4714 is the average monthly salary of a cost estimator.

Electrical engineer
Midpoint: $4015
The average salary of an electrical engineer is between $3214 and $4817 per month.

General manager
Midpoint: $8335
General manager was the job title with the greatest spread across the salary window options. The average salary worked out to be between $6900 and $9771 per month.

Managing director
Midpoint: $12,162
The average salary of a managing director is between $9391 and $14,934 per month. The wider window in this result comes about because of the smaller number of people identifying themselves as managing directors.

Project engineer
Midpoint: $4023
Project engineers earn an average salary between $3141 and $4905 per month. Remove the top 20% of results and this average drops to between $2271 and $3771 per month, producing a midpoint of $3021.

Project manager
Midpoint: $7774
Project manager was the largest category of job title in the survey, with around 25% of those who provided both salary and job title details selecting this option to describe their role. The average salary of a project manager is between $6406 and $9143 per month.

Top 3 countries of origin for survey respondents

  1. India
  2. Philippines
  3. United Kingdom


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