x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Building up from a downturn

Careers: Something unusual in the construction industry took place recently: a job fair.

Something unusual in the construction industry took place recently: a job fair. More than 200 job seekers attended the recruitment day sponsored by the property firm Drake and Scull, which is looking to hire about 100 people. Despite a challenging economic environment, the mechanical engineering and plumbing contractor hopes to expand between 20 per cent and 25 per cent more this year than it did last year. And considering that thousands of qualified workers have lost jobs since the property sector soured a few months ago, Drake and Scull is likely to find it easy to boost its ranks. "We used to get two applicants and would clap and be happy," says Khaldoun Tabari, the company's chief executive. "We believe this is the opportune time for us to get the right talent, it will fuel our growth." Not only is it easier for firms to find people to hire, but also the glut of unemployed workers means employers can pay much less for them, in some cases, about 25 per cent less. An experienced project manager who once earned Dh60,000 (US$16,330) a month, for example, is now more likely to accept a similar role for about Dh45,000. "Getting the right talent at the moment is cheaper," Mr Tabari said. Just a few months ago, the most pressing issue facing construction companies in the Emirates was finding the right staff to help complete projects. The temptation of offers of double their salaries was enough to encourage employees to switch jobs frequently. Companies paid above normal rates to attract key staff, and introduced twice-yearly pay rises and other incentives to keep them. The competition for talent was so tough that poaching was endemic and some firms negotiated "gentleman's agreements" with employees to prevent them from leaving mid-way through a project. Drake and Scull's human resources (HR) department is searching through jobs application for candidates for the company's mechanical, engineering and plumbing (MEP) and infrastructure, water and power (IWP) divisions. Those are areas where the firm plans to focus as it takes on projects in the GCC and North Africa. Earlier this month, the company won a Dh36.7 million contract for a district cooling plant in Sudan and is bidding for the MEP contract for an airport project in Libya. "Very little infrastructure has been built in countries like Sudan and Libya, so this is an opportune time for companies that have good management and infrastructure to go there," Mr Tabari says. "We're looking for good strong managers for our stores, logistics people, good project managers and engineers. It will probably take us two or three weeks, and by that time we will probably have hired the people that we found suitable." The firm also wants to shore up its ranks to help an acquisition drive, as Drake and Scull goes after expansion opportunities in the economic downturn. With Dh1.1 billion in available capital, the company is negotiating to acquire three GCC construction companies this year. Two of the firms are in Saudi Arabia and one is in Qatar. "Being a public shareholding company, you have to have a systemised approach to solutions rather than the haphazard way of a private company," Mr Tabari says. "You have to have strong HR and management, as well as have strong logistics systems in place in order to shift materials from Dubai to places like Qatar and Saudi Arabia. "Logistics is an area we are strengthening right now because we are hopefully going to get a lot of work in Saudi Arabia and Qatar soon." agiuffrida@thenational.ae