The Middle East HR agenda

Author Simon Stephens
July 12, 2013
image of a tall building in dubai

Creating HR functions that are more aligned to global best practice in conjunction with a remit to develop local talent are outputs high on the Middle East HR agenda.

This can require organisations to approach talent acquisition whilst supporting the regional nationalisation programmes, and talent development from a different angle.

The HR market in the Middle East in 2013 has been a genuinely positive one, with a healthy flow of newly created positions together with some replacement hires, courtesy of the somewhat transient expat population, and these have been across a broad range of industries.

Nationalisation is still very much on the agenda and there are a growing number of recent HR graduates originating from countries such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia bringing best practice methodology, a youthful outlook and a desire to carve out a career in a forward thinking HR function. Hopefully the days of the purely personnel orientated / admin functions are numbered.

Employment legislation perhaps does not underpin the HR function across the Middle East in the same way as it does in Europe, North America and Australasia, discriminatory policies and behaviours do not result in the hefty fines and damaging corporate publicity that would no doubt be a major deterrent in other regions.

There is a cost-benefit analysis with each new hire to decide whether a company appoints a European expat coming from a best-practice HR environment, or goes down a local talent route. Whilst we will always highlight the value of bringing in top talent to these developing organisations, the market has undoubtedly changed. For a period of time the growth here was so rapid that any expat who wanted to be based in the Middle East could come on board, irrespective of cost. During the financial crisis the market shifted significantly to a model of releasing some of the expensive expatriates, battening down the hatches and freezing salary increases. Since the market has picked up companies are now seeing a return to wage inflation. Companies behind the pay curve are losing talented employees seeking wage increases and career development.

With around 75% of the revenue generated in the Middle East coming from local, privately owned organisations, our role can often involve encouraging candidates to look above and beyond a less well known company, promoting the proposition of the role, its remit and the quality of the current team rather than relying on the employer brand. Of course it’s often easier to attract someone to an organisation with a really strong global blue chip brand, but candidates need to be mindful that the name above the door in this region does not always equate to what you find on the inside.

It can be more difficult for those companies to attract expatriate talent that have a regional, less well-known brand, but the roles on offer can be just as rewarding and often provide more opportunity to personally develop and genuinely be able to make a difference.

While the market is healthy, it remains the case that global businesses are still experiencing challenges. Making redundancies elsewhere in the world whilst recruiting in the Middle East rightfully means that companies need to consider internal talent should they have the flexibility to relocate.

The financial services sector has shown periodic signs of coming back on line after a long period in the doldrums. The growing population in the region is a likely key factor for the increased activity in the FMCG, retail, hotel and leisure, and airline sectors. We expect even more growth to come, some of it driven by huge infrastructure projects in Saudi, Qatar and the UAE and high profile events such as the Qatar 2022 World Cup.
Should, as the optimists here predict, Dubai win its bid for Expo 2020 there will be a further major investment programme, no doubt generating another exciting boost to the economy.

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