Building executives from region go east for new jobs

Builders are facing a shortage of talent despite the slowdown in the construction industry as their counterparts in Hong Kong, China and South Korea pluck experienced people from the UAE to staff their projects, recruitment experts say.

Powered by automated translation

Builders are facing a shortage of talent despite the slowdown in the construction industry as their counterparts in Hong Kong, China and South Korea pluck experienced people from the UAE to staff their projects, recruitment experts say. Thousands of jobs were cut across the country's construction industry as projects ground to a halt following the global financial downturn.

Some builders are now starting to rehire as they bid for or win new work in lively markets such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia, but they no longer have the rich pickings of the past as professionals migrate to the Far East and elsewhere in Asia. "Over the past couple of months, we've been asked continually to find people here for jobs in Hong Kong and Macau," said Simon Hobart, the managing director of the recruitment company Millennium Solutions, based in Dubai.

"It's a trend that's picking up; a lot of contractors are looking for people in the Middle East. I wouldn't call it a brain drain, but there are certainly a lot less suitable people here now." The UAE construction boom attracted people from all over the world as they sought to boost their experience and their salaries on ambitious projects. The country also provided an alternative to the slower employment conditions in their home markets such as the UK, where a significant number of senior-level construction staff came from.

But the financial crisis prompted these expatriates to move on, said Maria Brown, an associate director for the MENA region at the recruitment firm Reed. "The economic climate encouraged people to re-evaluate where they were," she said. "As there were redundancies in the region, they asked themselves 'where next?' and Asia became the next market. So clients in the Middle East are seeing the knock-on effect of that."

Now employers in the booming economies of Asia are taking advantage of the experience professionals gained in the Emirates, she said. Meanwhile, the opportunities may be plentiful elsewhere: the World Bank predicts that by 2015, half of the world's construction will take place in China. "Someone who has had the experience of working in an emerging market is going to be able to support an economic boom," said Ms Brown.

"Everyone's talking about China at the moment and it makes sense for companies to look for people that have come from within the Middle East. Hong Kong, Singapore and [South] Korea are also really good markets." After living in Dubai for six years, a former project manager with a local contractor, who asked not to be named, has decided to accept a job in Macau. He said he was making the move in search of more stable prospects. "We lost a lot of projects and the ones we were bidding for were taking a long time to come through," he said.

Salaries for expatriates working in the property and construction sectors in the region have fallen by about 30 per cent since the start of the economic downturn, according to APG Global, a recruitment agency based in Australia. This means salaries in Asia, including the Far East, are now similar to those in the Middle East, said Mr Hobart. agiuffrida@thenational.ae