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Leaders UAE 2019: Construction talent management advice

EXCLUSIVE: Panellists at Leaders UAE 2019 agreed that the industry’s recruitment practices have room to improve

Industry leaders at the Leaders in Construction Summit UAE 2019.
© ITP Media Group
Industry leaders at the Leaders in Construction Summit UAE 2019.

Remote working, internal training, and promotion opportunities will help retain key engineering talent, but the construction industry’s human resources practices have room for improvement, it was agreed by leaders on the Attracting Accomplished Leaders to Drive Expansion panel at Construction Week’s Leaders in Construction Summit UAE 2019.

The panel discussion was moderated by Taylor Sterling’s managing partner, Marcus Taylor, and comprised WSP’s human resources director, Caroline Parsons; ASGC’s HR manager, Caroline Winterhalder; and Khatib & Alami’s senior director, Steve Edmondson, all of whom discussed whether regional experience was necessary to succeed in the UAE, and how redeployment and internal promotions could help retain staff within a business.

“We have grown our workforce [in Dubai] by 200 in the last two years, [and this growth] has been quite an effort”, said Edmondson. He agreed that Khatib & Alami had identified the need for high-end talent, but added that hiring the right talent was a long process: “We need to think about it and prepare [for the entrant], as well as go through the [various] interview processes.”

Referring to Khatib & Alami’s workforce in Dubai, Edmondson added: “We have around 60 staff requisitions out at the moment and we try to plan three to six months ahead.”

Commenting on workforce management during periods of low activity, Winterhalder said: “We often take some of our more seasoned professionals and put them on newer projects to [share their] expertise.”

Winterhalder explained that the chairman Emad Amzy-led contractor’s branch in Cairo, Egypt had been “growing impressively”, leading ASGC to send a select number of its leaders to the Cairo office.

Edmondson, speaking of Khatib & Alami’s presence in Egypt, said the design and engineering consultancy’s workforce in the Arab country was growing based on changing market dynamics: “We are becoming quite diversified in the skills that we offer. Around 20% of our overall revenue is now coming from the domestic market.”

Parsons said WSP had also redeployed staff to ensure the continuous growth of its workforce: “We are constantly looking at the business to conduct redeployments and [ensure efficient] resource management.

“It is a critical part of our success as a business that our managers and business leaders are thinking about their people,” Parsons added.

Edmondson said that he personally preferred recruiting people with “local experience and connections”, and for Winterhalder, people from outside the GCC bring “bring new perspectives” and “other ideas”.

Eventually, Edmondson explained, high-quality talent would continue to find a place in top-tier construction organisations: “You don’t get rid of good talent. You find a way of keeping them – you move them around different divisions or sectors within the company.”

The movement of the Saudi Arabia market was also a pressing topic on the day, with the majority of panellists agreeing that Dubai-based professionals were now seeking career growth in the kingdom. Edmondson added that the Saudi Arabian construction market was “disrupting” the talent pool in the UAE, adding that there would be “natural migration” of workers in the years to come.

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Construction Week - Issue 751
Oct 13, 2019