Career advice, insights & tips for HR professionals
Demand for talent in the Middle East 10/09/2012
How can HR help deliver growth in the Middle East? Mary Appleton speaks to leading recruiters to understand what HR capabilities are in demand across each region and industry, and how you can position yourself as top talent.
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- Describe the current recruitment market
- What HR skills are in demand?
- What recruitment challenges do employers face?
- How can candidates stand out?
- Industry insight
Describe the current recruitment market
David Mackenzie, managing director, Mackenzie Jones (DM): It is steadily improving, with Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and Qatar key areas. The UAE has been quiet for the last 12 months with mainly junior to mid-levels roles available and salaries still relatively depressed. In the last three months, we’ve seen an increase in senior roles including HRD and HRBP opportunities.
Those hiring are a mixture of multinationals and local companies, with banking and B2B in the majority. In the UAE, we’ve seen an increase in the retail and hospitality sectors. There has been a slow increase in salary levels.
Julie Nicol, managing consultant, Digby Morgan (JN):
Companies such as Emirates Airlines, Alshaya and Al Futtaim continue to hire HR talent regularly. There’s continued growth in Qatar, Oman and Saudi Arabia, especially in the oil & gas, manufacturing and telecommunications sectors.
Simon Stephens, manager, Frazer Jones (SS):
Several global companies are hiring that see the Middle East as a genuine growth region while other geographies are being affected by Euro troubles. The more recession-proof industries (education, FMCG, healthcare) and strong ME sectors such as hotels and airlines have been solid.
Emma McGregor, Middle East manager, Huxley Associates (EM): The market varies hugely depending on country and industry sector. Particular growth countries include Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Iraq.
What HR skills are in demand?
(JN): Skills across the board, but right now in compensation & benefits.
(DM): Specialist HR skills are now being requested which reflects overall market improvement. Learning & development (typically an area that was cut during the recession) is now in demand. Compensation & benefits and employee relations have been consistent with recruitment being the least requested specialism. Over the last 12 months, generalist roles have typically been aimed at candidates with 5/6 years’ experience, with a good overall background and a focus on policies and procedures, ER and recruitment.
(SS): HR professionals with regional multi-country experience are naturally sought after and Arabic speakers who have worked in multinationals command a premium. What are the differences between region/country?
(EM): Most governments in the Middle East have nationalisation targets. In many cases there are not enough local candidates with relevant skill-sets to fill vacancies, so there’s a classic case of supply and demand. There are also visa restrictions for those coming from abroad to the Gulf states which makes finding certain skill-sets difficult to find.
(SS): There are regional variations, for example in Qatar, HR professionals with start-up experience, hands-on individuals who are not used to having big teams around them are needed given the embryonic stage of certain organisations.
Some countries have definite nationality preferences for senior roles – Arabic speaking is commonly a pre requisite in Saudi.
(JN): In the UAE, there’s a demand for more strategic HR capability. HR functions in Dubai are usually more developed, and this has led to a need for true business partnering experience. Leadership development, HRIS and change management expertise is now sought-after in the UAE. With oil & gas companies in Qatar and KSA, sector-specific HR skills are needed, for example strong employee relations and training experience in the sector.
(DM): Across generalist roles: in KSA clients typically want Saudi nationals with good government relations experience; Dubai has been focusing on specialist roles like L&D and Qatar has been focusing on good generalists – due to the boom there’s a real need for recruiters. Emerging markets like Iraq, Libya and Africa are looking for candidates to provide a more educative role, hence key skills like HR strategy and OD are more sought-after.
What recruitment challenges do employers face?
(JN): Although there are many candidates in the market, not all have concrete Middle East experience. Arabic language skills are still in high demand.
Counter-offers are also increasing as companies begin to realise the time and cost involved in replacing a good HR professional. Managing the internal recruitment process is also proving difficult due to regional travel and demanding schedules – companies are losing good HR candidates because of delays in the process.
Salaries have dropped in the region, but many candidates have not lowered their expectations, making final negotiations more difficult.
(EM): Finding specific skill sets can be difficult as well as finding people from specific countries in order to comply with visa restrictions.
(SS): The real talent pool is relatively small, so finding the perfect person is tough. It’s less risky to bring on board top talent from abroad who lack regional experience than settle for a less perfect person already based in the region.
How can candidates stand out?
(SS): Gain regional experience, do the ‘hard yards’ in places like Saudi and Kuwait. Build or be working in best practice HR functions that really lead the business, not just those that support or partner them.
(JN): Demonstrate true international HR experience – try to complete an international secondment with your current company or work on an international project at group level. CIPD and SHRM qualifications are more highly regarded now – if you have these, make it clear on your CV. Have realistic salary and role level expectations – you need to prove yourself in a new market by being flexible.
(DM): Candidates have typically been sought for sector skills, but this is changing as clients are looking for good generalists who are willing to look at alternative locations such as Qatar and KSA. Ensure your CV is relevant to the role you’re applying for. Employers are also starting to request CIPD and other HR qualifications.
(EM): For permanent roles it’s important to have consistency and have remained in a position for a significant amount of time. Companies want to see stability which will allow you to move up the ladder. What should be the main future priorities for business leaders in the Middle East?
(JN): HR directors should prioritise implementing good talent and retention strategies as the Middle East becomes a more competitive environment for top talent.
Introduce better employee engagement initiatives in order to understand the needs of a very diverse client group. Prioritise compliance; ensuring that companies in the Middle East are seen as ethical employers who instil best practice in their people strategies.
(EM): Hiring the right calibre of people to grow and strengthen their businesses. For countries such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, companies should invest more in training programmes to up-skill graduates or more junior candidates rather than relying on finding skills outside the business. Since the crisis, we have seen many training programmes stop.
(SS): Develop and reward key performers appropriately. An engaged workforce will be key as the market gets more competitive. What do Middle Eastern HR departments need to do to evolve the function?
(JN): Develop a strategic HR function in order to build the credibility of HR within the business. Introduce centres of excellence, develop true business partners and implement effective HR support & administration teams.
In addition, the creation of a data-driven HR culture that provides meaningful data to the business, from a people perspective, is very important. This includes upgrading or implementing HRIS across recruitment, learning and performance management. Finally, HR functions should be sufficiently staffed to handle demand and growth in new markets – there’s a business case for growing the HR function.
Emma McGregor, Middle East manager for Huxley Associates, reveals what industries are buoyant.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) expects the regional Middle Eastern economy to expand this year by 5.5%, up from its previous forecast of 4.2%. Much of this is due to the oil and gas sector, with income from strong oil output in the GCC as well as from high spending on areas such as infrastructure and public sector wages by governments. In January, the Executive Council in Abu Dhabi gave the go-ahead for a host of projects including Abu Dhabi international airport’s midfield terminal and projects on Saadiyat Island.
The energy and engineering sectors are experiencing growth. Petroleum is the cornerstone of Qatar’s economy and accounts for more than 70% of government revenue, more than 60% of gross domestic product (GDP) and roughly 85% of export earnings. Oil has given Qatar a per capita GDP that’s among the highest in the world. Qatar also faces challenging growth targets from an infrastructure perspective as it plans for the 2022 World Cup. This includes building 12 stadiums, hotels with 70,000 rooms and a $43bn infrastructure which will include transport networks.
Saudi Arabia is seeing major growth in the real estate sector as the government aims to overcome its housing crisis for the growing local population. Saudi Arabia has an oil-based economy as it possesses 18% of the world’s oil reserves and is the largest exporter of petroleum.
Both regional and international companies are hiring in these sectors.
Meanwhile, the banking sector remains steady. We’re seeing growth in the regional banks specifically in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and UAE. Corporate banking in Saudi Arabia and Qatar is buoyant due to growth in infrastructure in those countries.
Mary is deputy editor at Changeboard