x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Economy turns firms on to local labour

Employers reluctant to bring expatriates to the UAE, preferring to tap the existing pool of newly redundant workers.

Andrew McNeilis of Talent 2 says expatriates seeking new jobs are having to look at countries they would not have considered previously.
Andrew McNeilis of Talent 2 says expatriates seeking new jobs are having to look at countries they would not have considered previously.

DUBAI // Employers are increasingly reluctant to bring more expatriates to the UAE, preferring to tap the existing pool of newly redundant workers falling victim to the global recession, according to corporate headhunters. "Dubai has created its own pool of candidates so employers don't need to dip into the UK or foreign services," said Andrew McNeilis, the managing director of Talent 2. "Companies want people who are already here now."

In an interview, he emphasised the advantage in employing people who understood the cultural landscape and had experienced life in the Middle East. "Companies don't want to take someone on who could come here and not like it and leave again soon after," he said, or who would come simply to escape the credit crisis and then leave as soon as things eased up. Furthermore, the market is changing as more "very talented" Emirati staff are being moved into jobs that were once held by expatriates.

Mr McNeilis said it did not always follow that a successful employee in another country would be the right person for the job in the Gulf. "It's about attitude, aptitude and culture," he said. "A big part of moving out here is being adaptable to change, being diplomatic and most of all, being resilient. Previously in Dubai, the challenge was coping with the rapid growth and not about getting the right kind of talent.

"Quality came second after filling positions. Because of that there were many expensive mistakes made. Now, things are changing rapidly again, and the employer can afford to be far more choosy." Before, he said, "job hopping" was widespread, and employees would rarely see a job through from start to finish, especially in the building sector. Many construction projects have seen as many as three or four project managers during the building process. This, he said, fostered a less loyal and more fluctuating workforce. "Expats here have less choice now and are having to look at other countries in the Gulf which they would not have considered in the past, such as Saudi Arabia," Mr McNeilis said. While Talent 2 is placing 30 per cent fewer people in the UAE, it has seen a 10 per cent rise in the wider GCC, he said. Many made redundant in the UAE will be redeployed around the region over the next five months. "It's much easier now to recruit in countries like Kuwait and Saudi Arabia," Mr McNeilis said. "Bahrain for example is more developed than the UAE in this respect, and they have a more measured employment process." With offices around the region, including Oman and Qatar, Talent 2 will soon be opening in Saudi Arabia and Iran in response to the growing demands for higher quality staff. As for the UAE, companies appear to be seeking alternative motivators since the money has dried up in Dubai. "There were never any career development plans and retention packages," Mr McNeilis said. "Previously, employees' main concern was being able to leave as and when they wanted. But now, they are increasingly seeking the reassurance of a solid retention package." Companies are implementing better systems of performance management, he said. Rewards systems and career development will play a larger role in making the most of the staff that has been retained. "Up until now," Mr McNeilis said, "the development here has been about ideas. Now, it's about the execution of these ideas, which will require a whole different kind of talent. "The market has changed so much that I don't know why it's such a surprise to everyone that there have been so many redundancies." The current recession, he said, is not a crisis but rather a case of regrouping for what is essentially a young, inexperienced job market. Every market experiencing such rapid growth, he said, will inevitably "plateau" and consolidate. "This marketplace has never been here before," he said. "They'll probably have around six to 12 tough months and during this period will just need to diversify their products. The exciting thing is what's next." Abu Dhabi, he said, will drive the recruitment market now with much of its investment being in its infrastructure. "It's more measured investment in Abu Dhabi," Mr McNeil said. "That in turn attracts a different kind of person in the recruitment world. It has a different growth line. In the next 18 months, the emirate will come into its own in its demand for high calibre talent. It has some really exciting projects so can afford to be choosy about who it picks. "Dubai is a phenomenal achievement, but you have to ask what's next." mswan@thenational.ae