The UAE construction boom sparked an explosion in job opportunities, but as the market cools employers are being much more selective when recruiting, experts say.
Thousands of construction and property professionals – as well as estate agents – found work at the height of the building frenzy, before the global downturn brought the sector to a near standstill, writes Ben Flanagan.
Back then candidates meeting just 60 to 70 percent of the employment criteria could land a job in the sector, says recruitment expert Niall Hughes, senior consultant at Morgan McKinley in the UAE.
But now employers can afford to be much pickier, with candidates needing to meet almost all the criteria before even being granted an interview, Mr Hughes said.
Despite the tougher market and the stalling of several construction projects, employers are still on the lookout for the most skilled workers, with major events such as the Dubai Expo 2020 and the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar seeing continued momentum in the regional market.
And pay in the sector continues to rise, with Morgan McKinley forecasting that UAE construction salaries will rise by between 2 and 5 percent this year, albeit at a slower rate than last year, when there was an estimated 5 to 10 percent increase.
So while the industry is now much more challenging to break into, with low oil prices beginning to impact government budgets in the wider Arabian Gulf region, there are still opportunities out there for the best-qualified candidates.
Here Mr Hughes gives Benchmark the lowdown on how to rise up the career ladder in the construction and property sector.
Q&A with Niall Hughes, Senior Consultant at Morgan McKinley in the UAE
Q: Given the current market conditions, is it worth considering a career in property and construction?
The GCC construction industry is going through a tough period with many projects either being put on hold or shelved, mainly due to a lack of funding in the region. Difficulties in the Russian and Chinese economies along with a strengthening of the US Dollar, which most of the GCC currencies are pegged against, has meant a slowdown in the level of investors buying in the region.
Having said this, predictions for the region point to a brighter future. Populations are growing as many expats come to live and work in the region and there is a growing trend towards these people staying in the region longer-term and looking to move from renting to buying accommodation.
This growth in population has seen GCC governments invest more in infrastructure and this will need to continue along with an increase in residential projects required.
In the short to medium term, huge global events like the Dubai Expo 2020 and Qatar World Cup should ensure spending continues within construction and infrastructure, to be ready for when the world’s focus turns to the Middle East. Therefore I expect the employment market for property and construction professionals in the GCC over the next decade to be strong.
Q: How hard is it to land a job in the sector compared with during the UAE ‘boom’ years?
We have certainly seen a slowdown in hiring in the construction sector since the first half of 2015, by 10 to 15 percent and maybe even 20 percent in some areas. The market is competitive with the supply of jobseekers outweighing demand from employers, however the biggest difference between now and the “boom years” – circa 2006 – are the actual demands of employers. During the boom years, employers had to be flexible about who they would hire and if you fulfilled 60 to 70 percent of their criteria for skills, experience and education then you had a very strong chance of landing the job. Now though, it is difficult to even get an interview with the same companies unless you have at least 85 to 90 percent of their demands in terms of experience.
My main piece of advice for candidates is to be realistic with your expectations. Employers can receive hundreds and in some cases thousands of applications for every job opening they advertise. You need to ensure your CV stands out. Clearly highlight and demonstrate on your CV where you meet the criteria set out in the job advertisement. If your main motivation to move is for financial reasons then now is probably not the time to change jobs.
Q: Do you have any insights about working for estate agencies? What are the salaries can they expect and how competitive is it?
We do not recruit for estate agencies as the salaries on offer are normally very low – if any at all, as most real estate agents will make their money from commissions on the successful sale of a property. My understanding from speaking to people within this industry is that they’ve encountered a difficult 12 months in a very competitive market and inquiries and transaction numbers are down due to weaker investor sentiment.
Salaries for professionals in the main UAE construction contracting industry