Why does GCC construction face skills shortages?

Why does GCC construction face skills shortages?
(Picture for illustrative purposes only)
Published: 18 June 2017 - 6 a.m.
By: Neha Bhatia

Earlier this month, construction consultancy Turner & Townsend revealed the findings of an international survey covering the construction sectors of 43 markets, including the UAE and Oman.

More than 50% (24) of the markets studied by Turner & Townsend face labour shortages, it was found, with additional challenges such as skills shortages, exchange rate pressures, and low productivity, also enumerated in the report.

It added: “Poor productivity has been a perennial problem for the global economy,” the report stated.

“The complexities of the construction market, with its highly cyclical nature and relatively low margins, mean the productivity puzzle has been hard for the industry to solve.”

However, there is some good news for the GCC’s construction sector – Turner & Townsend’s survey found that the demand for and supply of labour are “in balance” in the UAE. In fact, Muscat (Oman) joins Perth (Australia), Santiago (Chile), and São Paulo (Brazil) as the study’s only markets to offer surplus labour this year.

The report continued: “All four of these regions are heavily dependent on export of resources and have been through a resources-driven construction boom that has now ended. As a result, the demand for construction trades has fallen away and a labour surplus ensues as projects end.”

Regional job appointments announced during the first 12 days of this month (p21) might suggest otherwise, but sourcing construction talent continues to be a top priority and challenge in the GCC, Suhail Masri, VP of employer solutions at job portal Bayt.com tells Construction Week.

More than 1,000 construction-related vacancies are currently live on the website, and in 2016, the keyword ‘engineer’ was entered 65,271 times on Bayt’s search tool.

Masri says: “Currently, Saudi Arabia has the highest number of construction vacancies, followed closely by the UAE […] and Kuwait. The GCC continues to be one of the strongest job markets in the [Middle East]. During the first half of 2017, we had [at least] 10,000 jobs available on Bayt on any given day, more than half of which were based in the GCC.”

However, as outlined by Turner & Townsend’s report, the challenge of finding skilled construction professionals persists in the GCC, and Sam Chehab, projects director at Klampfer Middle East, explains that “sourcing top-tier skilled construction talent with the right experience is difficult”.

Klampfer Middle East has “steadily” recruited talent across various construction-relevant roles in the past year, Chehab tells Construction Week.

He explains: “Most recently, we were searching for draftsmen, land surveyors, [and] engineers. [These] positions [...] were activated to meet the needs of our current jobsites, but we do not recruit with only one project in mind.

“Klampfer Middle East recruits talent based on a long-term roadmap, as we continue to cultivate [the] people who demonstrate potential, and attempt to retain team members that add value to the company’s operations and overall delivery and aims,” Chehab says.

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