Technology companies like Google, Microsoft and Cisco are heavily investing to create their own talent pools in the Middle East and North Africa
Technology firms hunt IT savvy jobseekers in Mena
A long-running brain drain in the tech sector means that companies looking to hire suitable professionals within the region face challenges filling vacancies. But now there is an attempt the redress the balance with an ambitious training and recruitment drive, Neil Parmar writes
Fast-growing technology companies in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) are aggressively training and recruiting young Arabs in hopes they can fill more than 14,500 jobs over the next four years.
Finding adequately trained professionals has proved challenging for both corporate giants and new start-ups, leading some companies to heavily invest in technical training schemes and create their own customised talent pools.
"There is a big shortage of talent out there in Lebanon, and generally in the region, because we have a big talent drain," says Fadi Bizri, the programme director at Seeqnce, a business accelerator in Beirut that grows tech and internet startups from around the world.
"It is chronically hard to hire good people, because once you are above a certain level it's much easier to find a better paying job abroad," he adds. Software and networking companies such as Microsoft, SAP, Cisco and others are trying to reverse this digital brain drain.
Microsoft plans to use part of a US$500 million (Dh1.83 billion) investment to target about 36 million young people in the Middle East and Africa region over the next three years.
The software provider has partnered with Silatech, a non-profit organisation based in Doha, to create MasrWorks, an employment site that offers technical training, mentorship opportunities, internships and jobs. It now operates in Egypt and is set to expand to other countries in the region.
"Young people are facing an opportunity divide - a gap between those who have the access, skills, and opportunities to be successful and those who do not," says Lori Harnick, the general manager for citizenship and public affairs at Microsoft.
"While some young people are prospering, those on the other side of this divide lack the skills, education, experiences and connections to employment that are required to survive and thrive."
Cisco is expanding a programme called Maantech to further boost the recruitment of Arab students and graduates within Israel's high-tech industry. This initiative launched last year to decrease economic disparity between Arabs and Jews there, and Intel, IBM, Hewlett-Packard and others have hired more Arabs for their workforces through it.
John Chambers, Cisco's chief executive, set a new target in June to employ 12,000 Arabs through Maantech over the next four years.
SAP, another software maker, is investing part of its $450m plan for the Middle East and North Africa over the next four years to recruit an additional 500 employees. It is also opening a technical training and development institute in Dubai to certify 2,000 consultants for the region.
"The goal of this programme is certainly to ensure we're developing the next generation of workforce for enterprise business solutions," says Brittany Lothe, the head of corporate social responsibility at SAP. "This will include training young students and graduates, through vocational training as well as certification programmes for youth professionals." Other tech companies with a presence in Mena also "have aggressive recruitment plans for both local and international hires", says Billy Turriff, who oversees data, surveys and technology at the consultancy Towers Watson in the Middle East.
Some graduates who already hold computing or technical expertise but have failed to secure jobs within tech hubs based in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and other countries are taking themselves off the job market by starting their own high-tech ventures, rather than opting for more training.
"Unemployment is the biggest challenge. I see a lot of young people saying: 'nobody's going to fix this for us; we better start an enterprise, company or NGO [non-governmental organisation],'" says David Aikman, the senior director and head of the young global leaders forum at the World Economic Forum.
These start-ups, in turn, have helped fuel the need for more high-skilled workers. "They are hiring," says Mr Bizri.
"The ones doing well are constantly looking for talent."
Although companies keen to train and hire new employees across the Middle East and North Africa, the overall recruitment picture is not as rosy throughout the region. Here is a look at how job-seekers are faring in specific countries:
HSBC's latest Purchasing Managers' Index for the UAE showed that private sector employment grew slightly last month from a four-month low in August. The number of new job opportunities advertised online has risen 16 per cent since August last year, driven by opportunities in advertising and media, engineering, construction and property as well as hospitality, according to Monster.com's latest employment index for the Middle East. The tech sector is also proving popular in the Emirates, with half of all software technology firms and 29 per cent of all hardware tech companies saying they were hiring for managerial and professional positions during the recruitment agency Antal's latest quarterly survey.
Most Egyptian businesses are cutting positions rather than hiring for them, with three-quarters of companies reporting they were letting managerial and professional workers go during the summer, according to data from Antal. A separate index showed the number of new job postings on online career sites rose just 1 per cent in August compared with the same time last year.
Following a recruitment drop earlier this year, Saudi Arabia has been experiencing a hiring surge more recently thanks to fast-growing sectors such as oil and gas, hospitality and retail, says Nizar Lallani, the chief executive of Antal in the UAE. Careers in the software, hardware and telecoms segments of the tech industry are among the top-growth occupations in the country, and salaries for these kinds of workers have risen 5.5 per cent this year, according to data published this month by Towers Watson. Yet the number of new opportunities in the healthcare industry as well as engineering, construction and property has dropped sharply over the past year, according to Monster.com.
Thanks in large part to its "National Vision 2030" economic plan, Qatar has recently reached the highest number of new employment opportunities among all Middle Eastern countries tracked by Antal and Monster.com. Companies have been recruiting jobseekers in the aviation and engineering sectors more than other industries, according to the latest jobs posted at Bayt.com. For workers in Qatar's tech industry, salaries have grown 5 per cent this year, Towers Watson says, with similar growth expected next year.