Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 18 March 2018

Executive expats are staying twice as long in the UAE

This comes in spite of modest salary increases and improving economic conditions in the West, recruitment firms say.

Top expatriate executives are staying twice as long in the UAE, recruitment firms say, despite modest salary increases and improving economic conditions in the West.

Last year, the average stay of senior professionals increased to four and a half years, almost double the duration in 2007, according to US executive recruitment company Stanton Chase, based in Baltimore, Maryland.

Panos Manolopoulos, managing partner at Stanton Chase in the Middle East, described the change as a “major shift”, and said the top-level UAE workforce could no longer be classed as transient.

“They are changing jobs but they are not changing region. That was not the case in the past,” he said. “We have some people staying for more than a decade now.”

When headhunting, Stanton Chase now primarily targets executives within the Middle East. In the past it looked outside the region in 80 per cent of cases, said Mr Manolopoulos.

The data was compiled from the professionals Stanton Chase deals with, and applies to “C”-level executives, country and general managers. Part of the reason expatriates are staying longer is the greater global awareness of the UAE, Mr Manolopoulos said.

“In the past it was an exotic, unknown place to many. We had people calling us from the United States asking how close the UAE is to Afghanistan. This is not the case any more,” he said.

Other recruitment experts agreed that executives are staying longer in the UAE.

“Expats … across all career levels are investing more and more in their careers and lives in the UAE,” said Rabea Ataya, the chief executive of recruitment site Bayt.com. “It’s not just about personal financial situations … quality of life for themselves and their families matters too,” said Mr Ataya.

Nelly Boustany, regional head of human resources at software firm Sap, said she had noticed that expatriates are staying longer in the UAE.

“I would argue whether the UAE is as transient as it used to be 15 years ago,” she said. “I see fewer people coming to stay for two to three years. But there is a larger proportion of people who have been here for more than 10 years, and in the workplace for longer.”

Mr Manolopoulos said the fallout from the global financial crisis is a major factor behind this.

But another recruitment firm said improving economic conditions in some western countries are now making it harder to attract expatriates to the UAE.

Gareth El Mettouri, associate director at the consultancy Robert Half Middle East, said this is contributing to a “war for talent” in the UAE.

“We’re seeing the market pick up in the UK and the US … candidates have now got options,” he told The National.

The Robert Half 2015 Salary Guide, published in November, found that average pay in the UAE is increasing below the level of inflation.

Professionals in accounting, financial services, information technology, legal, HR and administration have seen average pay increases of just 2 per cent in the year to November, according to the guide.

“Compounding hiring challenges are stronger employment prospects in the UK and US, resulting in fewer expatriates to the region,” the recruitment firm said.

Mr El Mettouri said the scarcity of the “expat package” also made the UAE less attractive to potential candidates.

“Gone are many of the benefits that expats used to get, for housing and schooling,” he said. “With a lot of clients here the main stumbling block at the moment is salary. We’re not seeing the huge increases that we saw back in 2007 or 2008.”

One looming factor in the recruitment of expats is the impact of lower oil prices.

The British newspaper The Telegraph this week warned of a potential “expat exodus” from Arabian Gulf states due to the massive decline in crude.

But Mr El Mettouri said it was too early to tell whether the oil price will have a major impact on the recruitment of expats in the UAE.

“The answer to that question may come in six months’ time, when it may be different,” he said.


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