Human resources back in action

Careers When the economy began its slide last autumn, human resources employees were part of the first-response teams.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - JUNE 4:  Satnam Grover, senior manager, contract staffing, Dulsco, photographed at her workplace in Dubai on June 4, 2009.  (Randi Sokoloff / The National)  For Careers section/story by Daniel Bardsley. *** Local Caption ***  RS001-060409-SATNAM.jpg
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When the economy began its slide last autumn, human resources employees were part of the first-response teams called in to help companies to make painful cuts. These same employees are now seeing the first signs of an upturn, with Dubai firms seeking to hire contractors again. "I wouldn't say it has got back to normal," says Satnam Grover, the senior manager for contract staffing for Dubai-based Dulsco HR Solutions. "It's not the same as last year but it has started improving." In the finals quarter of last year, she says, large companies were laying people off "haphazardly" and many realised they had cut numbers more than they needed to. But since March, companies have decided to add employees again, Ms Grover says, this time preferring to bring in staff through human resources firms such as Dulsco. Clients did not want to take on the risks associated with offering full-time employment, and were also keen to avoid the complications with visas and accommodation. "They think: 'let's not go and directly hire people because it will affect us if the market doesn't improve the way we think it will improve,'" Ms Grover explains. The improvements appear to be confined to certain sectors with retail, especially supermarkets and electronics, health care and telecommunications showing the biggest increases. In that sector, people in merchandising and sales are in particular demand, while healthcare companies are taking on receptionists and data-entry operators. In telecoms, customer service staff are particularly sought after, Ms Grover says. Major projects, including the Dubai Metro for which Dulsco has supplied engineers, are also hiring. The rise in demand for workers has not caught on in the rest of the economy. Property and finance, two of the hardest hit sectors in the recession, have yet to turn to HR firms to increase their workforces. "We get a lot of candidates who have been asked to leave from banks," Ms Grover says. Dulsco HR Solutions provides clients both skilled and unskilled candidates; from blue-collar workers such as drivers, carpenters, electricians and general helpers, to white-collar employees such as receptionists and managers. The firm dates back to 1935 when its founders had a stevedoring business in Dubai. Today it has about 6,000 employees in the UAE and Qatar. Although there is cause for optimism in some areas, Ms Grover says said employers are were still cautious, and are evidenced by the fact they were tending to take people on for shorter contracts than before. While the normal contract length used to be for about a year, it is now common for firms to hire for a month or so on for a single project. If the upturn continues, many of these temporary staff will eventually be replaced by permanent staff members, Ms Grover says. "If the economy is back to normal, they will go back to that normal level., Tthey will have their own people." But how do human resources firms themselves deal with their own fluctuating HR needs during fluctuating economic hardship times? Ms Grover says said Dulsco HR Solutions was took a careful about approach to hiring staff, and only does so doing so when there is was a demonstrated need. "To be honest, Dulsco has been very cautious," she says. "We don't hire people assuming we'll get business. We only hire people if we're confident business will come our way." The company has also been partly shielded somewhat from the slowdown because it does not provide construction labour, which one of the types of job that has been most heavily hit by the economic slump. The company is also able to keep its workflow stable by entering into binding contracts with clients, she says added. "None of our staff were let off," Ms Grover she says. "There are paper agreements in place where they take these people from us. They are binded by that agreement. All of these facts come into play." As a result, Ms Grover said staff numbers at Dulsco HR Solutions, which has its head office in Dubai and subsidiary offices in Abu Dhabi, Ras al Khaimah and Fujairah, have remained relatively constant.