As Qatar launches multi-billion riyal infrastructure projects in the run-up to the 2022 Football World Cup, demand for labour is stronger than ever.
Ashghal, the Public Works Authority in Qatar, has just awarded several infrastructure works worth more than one billion Qatari riyals (Dh1 billion), for which design consultancies and construction companies have to hire hundreds of executives, project managers, civil engineers and technical designers, among several other senior positions.
Other projects including a new planned city called Lusail, Education City, Qatar Foundation headquarters, the rail system and the ongoing New Doha International Airport will also demand a great deal of skilled staff. But while continuing economic uncertainty in Europe is likely — and in some cases, already helping — to persuade executives from the West to consider making the move to the Middle East, recruitment consultants reveal that perceptions of the region still pose a challenge.
“Perception is reality for people,” says Bernhard Ward, country manager at Reed Global, Doha. “Those who know little about the region can only fall back on what they see on their television screens everyday and they assume that the troubles in certain parts of the region have affected every part. That couldn’t be further from the truth and we are having to work very hard to change that perception for potential candidates.” Another hurdle comes from people’s perception about family lifestyle and comfort in Doha.
Currently there is a shortage of schools for children and a well-publicised clampdown on alcohol in Doha, but James Coburn, manager at Talent2, Qatar, points out these problems are either only temporary or are currently being resolved. New hotels with licensed bars and restaurants for socialising are opening their doors every couple of weeks. Ward points out that it’s not the man being offered the job who is most uncertain, but his wife, who wouldn’t want to take children to a place that is considered unsafe.
To alleviate these concerns, which come mostly from Europeans, Americans and Australians, Reed Global, for example, often brings potential candidates out here fairly early on in the process and takes them for dinner to help them form their own impressions of Doha.
They also make sure people are fully aware of the differences between Doha and Dubai, which is the more globally well-known city and candidates prefer. “There is no point in painting a colourful picture that isn’t in the end reflective of the reality in Doha,” says Ward. “It is probably around 10 years behind the UAE in terms of the infrastructure, but is a fantastically family oriented place.” However, the average salary in Qatar is pretty much a like for like in comparison with Dubai or Abu Dhabi, says Ward. “So a senior quantity surveyor earning Dh50,000 per month in the UAE would expect to earn the same here in Qatar. The big difference being the cost of living in Doha is far cheaper than in the UAE, so your money will go a lot further here.”
Another resounding issue is the timeframe of the infrastructure projects. In many cases they could last more than five years, which is too long for many candidates, says Coburn.
Financial-based incentives could help attract such qualified people, he suggests, “more precisely, including a bonus scheme in these candidates’ employment contracts, that are based on project completion.” However, Ward believes that the mindset of the people coming with an idea of what they want to achieve and how many years they would like to stay is slowly changing.
“The global economic situation has made people feel more grateful for having a well-paying job wherever in the world it is. Convincing people to stay for longer periods is definitely getting easier with many other international markets still witnessing uncertainty,” Ward says. Coburn agrees that it has certainly been difficult to hire skilled workers from the West, but this difficulty is slowly easing due to the slowing global economy.
In fact, until three months ago, only 30 to 40 percent of candidates contacted by Talent2 were willing to consider Qatar as a destination. Now, he says, more than 80 percent are ready to relocate.
“This is a result of the UK and European economic fears, slow government spending in the US and more locally, recent redundancies in the UAE and Arab uprisings in other MENA countries,” says Coburn. “Notably, due to a buoyant mining market in Queensland, Western and South Australia, the Australian pool of talented infrastructure candidates is currently occupied and remain a difficult target to motivate a move to Qatar unless they are already in the Middle East.”
Currently, Talent2 is conducting outsource programmes for companies who are making teams redundant here in the UAE. These candidates are highly skilled and have Middle Eastern experience; two of the most critical criteria to employers.
Gulf Recruitment consultant Aaron Bennett has dealt with some senior executives in the region, including the UAE and Egypt, whose projects are either coming to an end or have been laid off, meaning they could be good hires for some of the positions in Qatar. At the same time he expects a “huge shortfall” of talented people.
“Sometimes it is no good just having people in the market looking for a job. You need the best of the best qualified people for specialised projects,” Bennett says. In fact, many of the projects Reed is recruiting for are specialised, such as the rail system and the new Doha airport.
These projects, Ward points out, require people who have “applied similar principles to creating efficient, cost effective, high tech systems in other countries like Germany, Ireland and Australia.” Doha’s infrastructure plans over the next five to 10 years are unsurpassed, leading some to speculate that they are unrealistic, says Coburn, but if Qatar has any chance of meeting them then the most technically astute, efficiently skilled leaders are required.
“Finding and attracting the most talented infrastructure candidates to relocate to the country, as with any emerging global market, will remain difficult; but not impossible,” Doha-based Coburn says.