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

Borrowing some of Taylor’s optimism would benefit construction professionals in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. As Barry Prost, director of recruitment outfit Propel Consult, explains, the construction job markets of both kingdoms are set to change in the upcoming months.

He continues: “Bahrain’s and Saudi Arabia’s construction industries are currently experiencing contrasting fortunes, with the former’s construction sector steadily expanding since 2014, while Saudi’s has contracted since 2015.

“Bahrain’s construction industry has been supported by significant investment from its Gulf neighbours. According to the Economic Development Board in Bahrain, the country is spending $32bn (BHD12.1) on infrastructure projects, such as Aluminium Bahrain (ALBA) smelter’s and the international airport’s expansions.”

Prost tells Construction Week that while infrastructure investments will continue to drive the Bahraini construction sector – and its accompanying employment market – the same cannot be said for Saudi Arabia.

Work on landmark projects such as the Riyadh Metro, and recently-awarded build-operate-transfer (BOT) deals for five airports across the country, will buoy construction job prospects in the kingdom.

He continues: “The landscape of [Saudi’s] construction industry [of late] has been overshadowed by the presence of a number of major zombie contractors, which are effectively insolvent and [are awaiting] some kind of settlement for work done to date,  [...] struggling to complete ongoing work and pay staff.

“However, economic growth will be significantly held back in 2017, as oil production is curbed in line with OPEC’s [Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries] latest deal.”

On 25 May, Arabian Business reported, citing Bloomberg, that OPEC has extended oil production cuts through to March 2018 after last year’s landmark agreement “failed to eliminate the global oversupply or achieve a sustained price recovery”.

Prost says his organisation is currently faced with demands for experienced commercial staff, such as qualified quantity surveyors and contracts managers, as well as design- and site-oriented professionals like project managers and design engineers.

“We have also been retained by a number of family businesses in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia that are looking for general managers and CEOs to restructure their construction businesses for current market conditions,” he adds.

Indeed, contemporary market conditions are dictating employment trends across the GCC. Jobs portal LinkedIn’s Industry Talent Report for the UAE’s construction sector, published this April, stated that 62% of the candidates it studied desire “excellent compensation and benefits” from their job.

In addition, LinkedIn data showed that 4% of construction professionals in the UAE have changed jobs over the past year.

Experts say it is unlikely that construction jobs in the GCC will suffer significant downturns in the second half of 2017, but regional employers and candidates alike would benefit from a transformed approach to employment dynamics.

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