Why companies should expand their horizons to look for 'unicorn' employees

The ability to offer remote working allows employers to tap into a global workforce

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As the population of the UAE continues to grow and the workforce increases, the competition for talent will continue.

But not everyone in the world wants to relocate to the region, so some organisations are facing challenges in hiring for niche roles.

In the past 12 months, I have seen a huge increase in the need for technical expertise in the UAE, and many of the required candidates are not in the country.

Although the UAE is a very attractive location to relocate to, not everyone wants to leave their home country and/or family. So, how are companies getting around this challenge?

There are solutions to this talent shortage that do not involve breaking the salary structures of 20 years ago.

When I moved to Dubai in 2007, large multinationals were either hiring or relocating their own staff to the emirate at huge cost, with eye-watering allowance packages and benefits.

Then the global financial crisis hit and the recruitment sector re-set itself.

Now, the UAE is a much more mature market. Organisations do not have to roll out the red carpet to attract talent as the country does this by itself, to an extent.

One recent example is a “unicorn” candidate in the Asia-Pacific region, who we approached many months ago for a niche role. He was interested in the opportunity but did not want to move countries.

After a continued search and the pressure mounting for the work to be carried out, the client is now re-engaging with a view to this candidate working in a hybrid role from their home country with frequent trips to the UAE.

There is now a much higher chance of getting this individual’s commitment to the role.

I am sure the employer hopes that once this person has experienced the exciting projects he will be involved in and the high quality of living here, he might decide to make the move more permanent.

Some of the stats behind the UAE's hiring boom

Some of the stats behind the UAE's hiring boom

For companies that are struggling to hire for such niche roles, remote working, or offshoring, is becoming a more attractive option.

It’s a much better solution to have someone fill the role by working remotely than to have no one in the role at all.

Being able to work remotely is one thing that the pandemic taught us – even the most reluctant business leaders (including myself) realised that this was the only way to operate.

By tapping into more mature markets such as Europe and the US, for example, hiring managers can find talent that simply isn’t available locally.

If candidates do not want to relocate themselves, then the role can be relocated to them.

We have seen this a lot in Saudi Arabia, with mega-projects such as Neom hiring the world’s top talent at a senior leadership level and, in some cases, opening entities in their home countries to accommodate them.

As a recruitment company, we can tap into a global talent pool and have convinced many candidates to move to the region who have later settled and made a life for themselves and their families here.

But we have also been able to facilitate the hiring of candidates with specialist tech skills in other countries to support companies and projects here.

There are other instances where an employer in the UAE wants to expand its operations regionally to Saudi Arabia or North Africa, for example, but does not have entities in those countries.

With an “employer of record” solution, a hiring manager can compliantly recruit someone almost anywhere in the world.

An employer of record is an entity that legally employs workers on behalf of another business.

As businesses grow and expand into new sectors and territories, there will be an increase in this type of hiring.

More developed parts of the world are already utilising this method and with initiatives such as the UAE’s nomad visa, it’s clear that the leadership is embracing this model.

As a consultancy with offices in three locations (UAE, London and South Africa), we are effectively working remotely every day, hiring in more than 30 countries in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Having first-hand experience of this model helps us to convince clients that we can support them to follow the same methodology.

If you, as a hiring manager or HR leader, are facing similar challenges, it might be time to get some fresh ideas on how to attract the best talent.

John Armstrong is founder and managing director of JCA Associates

Updated: October 16, 2023, 4:03 AM