What talent challenges do employers face in the Middle East?

Written by
Changeboard Team

04 Sep 2013

04 Sep 2013 • by Changeboard Team

Middle East - a maturing market

Without doubt the Middle East has become an increasingly desirable location for global business in recent years. We’ve certainly seen a lot more activity in the region, but moving into the area hasn’t been without its challenges.

As the global market has continued to mature, there has been talk of the barriers which organisations have had to overcome, but there are still many which we need to be aware of for future development in the region.

Expatriates versus local talent

The expat or local talent question is one we often hear. However before you make a decision to go down one route, there are considerations to bear in mind. Where talent is being recruited from overseas it is important to understand motivations and manage expectations to avoid any disappointment. This is particularly important when you consider that many countries in the region, Kuwait for example, are aiming to become more self-sufficient when it comes to workforce. As such, a candidate from overseas must have skills which cannot be found locally in order to really thrive.

Added to this, pressure from local governments for organisations to meet a certain quota or fill a particular percentage of their workforce with local talent; be they Emirati, Qatari, Kuwaiti, Omani or Saudi nationals, is increasing. Take for example the Abu Dhabi 2030 vision which sets out plans to build a sustainable, efficient and highly skilled local workforce.

Role requirements - regional challenges

There are also a number of regional challenges which are partly dependent on the type of role you’re hiring for. For example, more front office related positions require candidates who have access to client relationships in the region often coupled with bilingual (English and Arabic) speaking skills. Whereas with more technically specific roles such as technology, risk or transformation & change, the key challenge is in identifying qualified individuals with not only the required specific technical knowledge but also the regional experience to match.

Often where the expertise within the region is rather nascent or under-developed, employers are forced to look outside of the region. The challenge then becomes how to ensure that the successful candidate is the right fit and is able to adapt to the local and corporate culture so that he or she stays.

The question of work permits

Beyond being able to attract candidates, there are also legal implications which can restrict the talent pool available to work in the Middle East. The increasing pressure certain nationalities have in being able to obtain the necessary permits to work in the region has naturally decreased the talent pool, meaning in some cases organisations might not be able to get the ideal candidate into a role.

This issue is particularly prominent in the Middle East due to the constant adaptations to work permits in order to reflect the economy and latest government policies. It’s important therefore that HR professionals keep up-to-date with any changes to working policies or resident visas in order to give potential employers the best advice on making a move into the area.

Recent hiring activity

More specifically, looking back over the last quarter there has been a change in activity in the region which perhaps highlights the variety of issues impacting businesses. For example, around the month of Ramadan there was a noticeable slow down in recruitment as this religious period impacted candidate movement and business decisions. Considerations such as this need to be taken on board as they will ultimately affect talent management processes around this time.

While there are a number of challenges to overcome, overall there is definitely a positive sentiment around talent attraction in the region as we enter Q4. In financial services specifically, we’ve seen a shift in hiring away from the larger, international institutions, towards the regional banks. In particular, Retail Banking, Wholesale Banking, Credit/Risk and IT all seem to be more active with little to no movement within Investment Banking and Asset Management. This rise of regional businesses is perhaps an indication of the way the Middle East economy is moving – away from a purely global focus, to the local implications.

All this being said it is important to note that the Middle East remains a fascinating business and social hub with huge growth potential. In order to really maximise the opportunities available, HR professionals need to keep up-to-date with the latest changes in the region and provide the talent attraction and management direction that is perhaps currently sparse.