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Employment Trends: United Arab Emirates

2016-03-19
by Mary Anne Thompson

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a commercial, financial and business hub of the Middle East.

Home to many expats who enjoy a comfortable life, as do locals, the country remains optimistic despite a predicted gradual economic slowdown due to falling oil prices and the softening of the UAE’s real estate market, according to Mary Anne Thompson, President and Founder of GoinGlobal.

Employment Outlook

Short Term:

Major Challenges

The UAE (as well as the entire Middle East) faces serious challenges that include:

  • Geopolitical instability
  • Global economic risks
  • Social and political imbalances, including unemployment
  • Availability of water
  • Pollution

Labor Imbalances

Labor imbalances are major domestic challenges for the UAE. About 85 percent of the country’s 9.3 million population is foreign, with expats hailing from 150 countries. Approximately 98 percent of private sector workers in the UAE are non-UAE nationals.

Long Term:

Leading expat destination: The UAE is the highest ranked destination to live and work in the Middle East and North Africa region, according to a recent published survey conducted by Bayt.com. Abu Dhabi is ranked the highest with respect to health insurance and social security systems, labor rights, termination rights and end-of-service benefits. Dubai has the most available jobs, competitive salaries, career growth, holiday allowances and benefits offered to working parents. A note of caution, however: The UAE’s popularity means that top Western talent is readily available to international businesses there.

Long-term strategic plan: The UAE’s strategic plan for the next few years focuses on economic diversification and the creation of more opportunities for nationals through improved education and increased private sector employment. The government has increased spending on job creation and infrastructure expansion.

Innovation: Local hubs have become beehives of economic activity and innovation in Dubai. Dubai’s Internet City is the biggest IT hub in the Middle East. These kinds of clusters are described as ‘an ingredient for success’ by online business publication INSEAD Knowledge.

Areas of Job Promise

According to executive recruitment firm Morgan McKinley’s UAE operation, the greatest demand is for highly experienced specialists and mid-level and senior professionals in banking and financial services, accountancy and finance, energy, sales and marketing, supply chain, manufacturing, construction and office support.

Finance and accounting: Employers in finance and accounting are seeking business-savvy individuals with strong commercial acumen who, in addition to traditional activities, can increase revenues and work well with colleagues in other departments.

Financial services: Employers in financial services are focusing on mid-level to senior business-critical positions. These companies expect employees to be specialists and generalists, demonstrating high-level experience and knowledge across multiple areas.

Human resources: As this field grows in importance, increasing workloads are driving demand for increased headcount. Companies are looking for bilingual HR generalists, as well as some specialists.

Talent Shortages

The latest Monster Middle East Employment Index recorded a 45 percent increase in available jobs in the sales sector, a 30 percent increase in human resources and administration and a 28 percent increase in demand for those with training in engineering and production since the same period last year. The oil and gas sector, as well as construction sectors, show the highest demand for engineers. Other sectors with talent shortages are technology, nursing and entrepreneurs. Realizing the need for more entrepreneurs in the country, almost 40 government bodies support entrepreneurs in the UAE, as well as programs such as Intilaq, which helps Emirati nationals obtain a two-year license free of charge.

Skills in Demand

Employers in the UAE are seeking candidates with the following academic/educational qualifications, according to a survey by Bayt.com:

  • Business management graduates/post-graduates
  • Commerce experience
  • Engineering knowledge
  • Administrative qualifications
  • Computer science skills

Soft Skills Needed

The Bayt survey also identified the following skills as being the most sought-after by UAE employers:

  • Bilingual skills in Arabic and English
  • Ability to work under pressure
  • Team player, cooperative, helpful, flexible
  • Good personality and demeanor
  • Good leadership skills
  • Efficient and productive
  • Trustworthy and honest
  • Wanting to make a difference, passionate

General Salary Trends

According to Mercer’s 2014 International Geographic Salary Differential, in the UAE, despite rising costs of living, expats in senior professional roles take home the third-highest pay in the world, while junior employees’ pay is ranked ninth worldwide.

Salaries for employees in the banking and financial services sector likely will rise between 7 percent and 9 percent this year. The Middle East remains one of the best places for engineers in the power sector to maximize their salaries, and the UAE typically offers engineers some of the highest pay packages in the region. Salaries in sales and marketing are expected to grow approximately 7 to 8 percent in the coming period. Salary increases for petroleum employees are likely to average around 5 percent this year as industry employers strive to retain existing talent and attract skilled candidates. Many companies are also increasing bonus payments in an attempt to grow their talent pool and increase their market share.

Conclusion

While the UAE may be expecting an economic slowdown in the future, today’s economy continues to grow. Expats have a home in the UAE, and like the locals, their lifestyle is a good one. Jobs remain available across multiple sectors, but competition is stiff, as the republic is home to so many experienced and capable employees. All in all, the UAE remains a place of opportunity and innovation, prosperity and possibility.  

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