Five key questions answered: Should you work at a megaproject?

Dubai’s Burj Khalifa and Abu Dhabi’s Mohammed Bin Rashid Tower may be among the UAE’s tallest buildings – but can they help you climb higher up the career ladder?

Despite the massive drop in both oil and property prices, writes Ben Flanagan, the Gulf’s real-estate business is powering ahead, with more job vacancies in the sector than any other industry, according to recent press reports.

The biggest projects typically involve thousands of workers ranging from unskilled labourers to highly trained surveyors, architects and project managers. The upcoming Al Habtoor City in Dubai, for example, has involved approximately 5,000 construction workers – and after completion will employ thousands more, hailing from almost two-thirds of the world’s countries.

But does it pay off for construction professionals to work on high-profile megaprojects? Are they more likely to land a plum job in the future?

Benchmark got the lowdown from Marcus Taylor, managing partner at the Dubai-based Taylor Sterling, which specialises in recruitment in the Gulf construction and engineering business.

Having high-profile projects on your CV can indeed give job candidates a boost, Mr Taylor said. But a big project that’s a big flop can be an equally big turnoff to future employers, he cautions. Here’s the lowdown for potential recruits.


 Q&A with Marcus Taylor, managing partner at the Dubai-based Taylor Sterling

Q: A number of new and revived ‘megaprojects’ are being announced in the Gulf region, such as Meydan One and the recently rebranded Dubai South. Are you seeing more recruitment opportunities as a result?

A: There is definitely a sense of excitement in the air about the plans for development and re-development; people are starting to look past the insecure times, hopefully with a bit of wisdom. We have had a lot of disappointments over recent years, of exciting projects not reaching their potential. The World, Palm Jebel Ali and [Dubai] Waterfront for example. All were affected by the economic ‘glitch’ which was a dark time for the Gulf’s construction industry – except the ‘contract claims’ guys of course, who were having a great time. The only upside was reduced living costs… and many of the recruitment cowboys leaving their cars at the airport. The new projects that have been announced are really exciting for the UAE in particular, not just the big sparkly ones for which the region is famous, but also for the affordable housing projects. It’s all very well throwing billions of dollars into magical iconic developments, but we need something for those who will build it and work there.

Q: What kind of job roles are out there for the next round of large developments like Meydan One?

A: Many of the projects are still in concept and cost stage so we are a little away from awarding the contracts to break ground. Obviously, the first on the ground will be the infrastructure cost and [project management] specialists like Parsons and engineering firms such as WSP. The tender and cost teams will be doing long hours and potentially biting off more than they can chew. So with exception of the developers’ sales teams, the immediate need is for pre-contract commercial teams and programme staff.

Q: Are the skills required of senior staff any different on megaprojects compared to smaller developments?

A: It really all depends on what side of construction you work on. With the master-development plans it would be mandatory to have related experience. The synergy between all the elements is essential at that level, as a mistake could be catastrophic. And it wouldn’t be the first time major projects in this region have fallen foul due to lack of foresight, and paid a heavy price.

Read the October print edition of Benchmark Middle East online here

Q: Is working on a high-profile development like the Burj Khalifa a good career move? Do employers look at such candidates more favourably?

A: It really all depends on what the employer needs. It will definitely command a better salary as mega high-rise experience is needed for projects such as the Burj 2020, [and] these candidates don’t grow on trees. But there are unique problems to be overcome on many projects that aren’t seen as ‘megaprojects’. If a client asks me for a [candidate with] high-rise experience I would equally run to those who worked on projects like Abu Dhabi’s Capital Gate; it’s not nearly as well-known, but equally ground-breaking in its complexity.

Having great projects on your resume is all very well, but what company you worked for is arguably more important for the employers that I represent. It reflects in the culture, systems, processes and procedures used and, ultimately, if the project was completed on time, to specification and within budget. There are a number of projects that, if I saw on a CV, I generally would steer clear of as I know they were a disaster. The reason I do construction recruitment is that I have a passion for it; it may be from my father being an architect but I have a love of seeing the creation of these amazing projects rising out the ground. I would prefer to represent those candidates that worked on projects such as the Burj Khalifa because it was a fantastic project – and not just to have it on their portfolio.

Q: What is the recruitment market like in GCC construction, and are best practices always observed?

A: Where do I start? It’s shockingly bad. There are no recruitment best practices here. I’m frankly ashamed to be called a recruiter in this part of the world. Ethics and accountability are thrown out the window to win a fast buck. Unfortunately, the big names that you would normally trust are the worst for it. My career before recruitment has always been in services and the majority of my business has been from the minority of my client base. However, the recruitment industry as a whole just works on a KPI numbers game. Most recruiters fail to realise that they are playing with people’s lives and the welfare of families. It amazes me that firms are not more selective with choosing candidates that will be representing them to potential new employees.

We do all we can to avoid all the sales antics and be a true consultancy. If you can get the candidate a great job with a great company at the right cost, the rest will look after itself. My advice would be, always use a recruiter based in the GCC, get a reference of the consultant you want to represent you and, finally, chose someone who is industry specific and actually knows what they are talking about – and isn’t going to send your CV to every email address they have.