Expats and Private Companies Face Major Challenges in UAE's Complex Employment Climate

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MRI Worldwide UAE provides insight on the hiring landscape in the region.

Sam Collins, General Manager of MRI Worldwide UAE

Expat packages are becoming a thing of the past...Very senior roles may be the exception, but overall a modest straight cash payment covers the allowances and the employee decides how to spend the ‘cash’.

Although job growth has been consistent in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in recent months, and projections are for even more growth over the next few years, the situation does not necessarily indicate a sustained boom in hiring for expats. Many job opportunities – up by 6 percent in the region over the past year – are open only to nationals of the country. Unfilled positions remain open due to the lack of suitably qualified national candidates, and companies cannot in some cases employ expats because of the ‘quota’ system. MRI Worldwide UAE is helping expats and international clients gain a better perspective of the UAE job market, creating more realistic expectations and effective outcomes in the recruitment process. The executive search firm is an affiliate of MRINetwork®, one of the largest executive search and recruitment organizations in the world.

"Expats who have previously worked in the region or who have known people working here have the perception that it’s the land of milk and honey," says Sam Collins, general manager of MRI Worldwide UAE. "But expat packages are becoming a thing of the past. The days of companies paying for business class tickets for family vacations, drivers, school fees and other perks are dwindling. Very senior roles may be the exception, but overall a modest straight cash payment covers the allowances and the employee decides how to spend the ‘cash’. Of course for some employees this is suitable, but for others it provides challenges, particularly with the cost of rents rising and demand for housing in key locations expected to grow further now with Dubai winning the Expo 2020 bid."

Candidate expectations have to be managed, advises Collins. "The big expat packages now come primarily from foreign companies relocating people into the region, as opposed to locally based companies and organizations, where HR is controlling the budgets much more closely and endeavoring to ‘manage’ the spend on benefits, etc."

"This makes attracting Arabic-speaking talent harder as the local nationals often want significantly higher wages. There is becoming a greater demand for Arabic speakers across the Middle East so if I were a student today I would be learning Arabic as the Middle East could provide me with great future employment opportunities."

"One of the challenges across the Middle East right now is that many of the young nationals do not want to work in entry-level roles in the private sector instead favoring employment with government departments. Many jobs at graduate entry-level exist in the private sector, but as the benefits and salaries in the government departments are often higher, fresh graduates are reluctant to work for a lower salary with fewer benefits like shorter public holidays in the private sector. As a major recruitment firm, we currently have a number of graduate roles open in banks or other private companies but are struggling to find nationals to fill these roles," states Collins.

Age can also be a barrier to hiring in some cases. There are strict rules on the upper age limit for the issue of visas. In the UAE the retirement age has recently risen to 65, but most companies in the Middle East will not look to hire expat candidates over 55 and in many cases 50 because of the limited time they will be able to work in country.

"The challenges can seem immense," says Collins. "Ideally foreign companies and expat candidates should seek the advice and counsel of recruitment professionals before they attempt to navigate the employment situation in the UAE and other Middle Eastern countries."

About MRI Worldwide UAE:

Founded in 2000, MRI Worldwide UAE in Dubai has a team of 15 consultants specializing in mid – senior level appointments throughout the Gulf region and Africa.

Specialist markets include: FMCG, banking and insurance, information technology, engineering, manufacturing, logistics and supply chain, construction, retail, human resources, finance and aviation.

Our client base includes both multinational and local companies. Visit MRIWorldwide UAE at http://www.mriwwuae.ae.

About MRINetwork®:

Management Recruiters International, Inc., branded as MRINetwork®, is one of the largest executive search and recruitment organizations in the world. MRINetwork has approximately 600 offices in 35 countries. Visit MRINetwork at http://www.mrinetwork.com. For franchising opportunities, visit http://www.mrifranchise.com.

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Nysha King