Local markets experiencing growth
The Digby Morgan team in Dubai is busy; and getting busier. After a quiet end to 2011, the team braced themselves for a cautious start to 2012. However, proving once again that anything can happen in this region, we are experiencing a continued increase in job orders, especially in specialist HR areas - which can only be a positive sign for the future of HR in the region.
In particular, the growth seems to be in the local market, as opposed to multinationals. Due to our previous reliance on the expat market, it is refreshing that we are beginning to work more closely with local companies and I can report that HR is quickly becoming part of the overall business strategy for these companies. In addition, many local companies are realising the benefit of a diverse HR function; allowing expats and local HR talent to learn from each other.
Working in the Middle East
My advice to any expat entering the Middle East market is to keep an open mind when considering sectors and brands, and don't be led by what is considered ‘progressive HR’ in your home country. Take the opportunity to meet local companies as there is a great amount of satisfaction to be found from really impacting a new HR function.
There are, however, a number of challenges facing the Digby Morgan team. Firstly, there is more opportunity at the mid-level now, but a lack of candidates coming on to the market with relevant Middle East experience. We are therefore keen to speak to experienced HR advisors and HR business partners currently in the region, who still have room for development in the right team. There is also a misconception in terms of salaries on offer. It is true that the UAE offers higher salaries than Qatar, Kuwait and KSA. However, the days of the impressive ‘expat package’ are gone. Although this is still an emerging market, the effects of the recession in the West are apparent and companies are becoming less generous in terms of allowances, including housing and transport. However, there is still a great tax-free lifestyle on offer here and, overall, people are better off than their western counterparts. Rental values and the cost of living have decreased substantially, leading to more disposable income (to spend in the malls of course).
Finally, the Saudi HR market looks set to boom, but this doesn't come without its own challenges. The commitment to developing national talent and reducing unemployment in the country is really impressive. But we need to be aware of cultural differences, in particular the perception of women at work. Saudi can, however, offer an excellent standard of living for many families and male HR professionals can have real influence on the business. For that reason, Saudi can still be an attractive option for expat families, even those without Arabic language skills. Remember that multinational companies operating in Saudi will always have a joint-venture partner, so there is a great chance to develop international and local experience at the same time. It's a unique market, but one which is growing quickly and worth considering.
So the first month or so of 2012 has been, overall, a real success for us in the Gulf and we hope that this continues. As always, we are keen to develop our relationships throughout the MENA region and are happy to advise HR professionals here and abroad on the local market. We are not complacent and appreciate that things can change overnight here. But, for the time being, it's a very positive outlook.