RIYADH, Aug 3: With a massive construction boom sweeping the Kingdom and other Gulf states, the construction industry in the region is struggling to find skilled personnel in this sector, according to recent research released by GulfTalent.com, the leading online recruitment portal in the Middle East.
The situation in the Kingdom’s case is further compounded by the Labor Ministry’s restrictions on the recruitment of overseas manpower and also the transfer of sponsorship. As a result, salaries of qualified and experienced engineers have shot up by 30-35 percent, while those of unskilled labor are up by over 10 percent.
Overall, according to the study, the competition for talent has had a visible impact on compensation levels. Salaries for engineers and managers in the region’s construction sector rose at an average rate of 12.8 percent over a 12-month period to August 2006, the highest increase among all sectors. GulfTalent.com’s study was based on a survey of construction professionals as well as interviews with HR managers and executives of companies active in the sector.
The Kingdom’s health care sector also finds itself in a bind, with private sector polyclinics and hospitals unable to get visas for their expansion program, while a government plan to set up 2,000 health care centers has been delayed. The reason is reluctance on the part of overseas doctors and paramedical personnel to accept job offers for health care centers set up in the Kingdom’s remote locations.
Speaking to Arab News, Murat Bugday, assistant general manager of Yuksel Insaat, a Turkish construction company, said they had applied for 350 visas with the Labor Ministry for a major project. However, it sanctioned only 142 visas. “We can understand that the government is keen to push the Saudization program. But, unfortunately, the Saudis available on the job market are not up to mark,” he said.
Murat said that under the circumstances, the only available option is to recruit people that come on free visas. “They are not professionally qualified, as they have only fake degrees and no proper experience. Overall, this has pushed up the cost of the project by ten percent,” he said.
Referring to the employment situation in the GCC, the GulfTalent.com’s report, entitled “Construction Sector Employment Trends,” points out that the Gulf construction sector continues its rapid growth but is facing severe challenges as too many companies compete for a limited supply of talent.
As more players enter the market and more large-scale projects are unveiled across the UAE, Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, the supply of engineering and managerial talent is not keeping pace with the demand, leading to acute shortages in also other areas like health care, oil and gas, IT and telecommunications, the study points out.
What has lent a new dimension to the manpower situation is the problem of getting experienced hands even from a traditional market like India, which itself is undergoing massive economic growth. Gulf-based companies were facing difficulties in attracting the requisite expertise needed to man their projects.
At the same time, some Western expatriates occupying mid-level and senior positions in the sector were reportedly leaving the region for more lucrative offers in China. Visa restrictions are an additional constraint on the sector. The Kingdom and Qatar restrict the issuance of visas to only certain nationalities, while the UAE recently clamped restrictions on visas to companies that have not met their Emiratization targets. Several construction firms interviewed by GulfTalent.com reported having to turn down major contracts because they were already stretched and could not deploy the expertise and human resources necessary to take on additional projects.