Gulf construction firms are forking out ‘premiums’ to lure workers to the less attractive countries
Construction companies are struggling to attract workers to the growing markets of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, putting some projects under financial strain, executives have revealed.
Many construction firms and developers who have played a key role in building Dubai during the past decade are now also expanding into the emerging neighbouring markets, where Saudi Arabia is ploughing billions of oil money into housing, infrastructure and hospitality and Qatar is spending a similar amount boosting its international appeal and preparing for the 2022 World Cup.
But the widespread and rapid demand is clogging access to building supplies as well as labourers.
Arabtec chief operating officer Nabil Al Kindi said the majority of expatriate workers – which make up a significant majority of the construction workforce – were reluctant to move to Saudi Arabia or Qatar, particularly if they were already living in the more attractive Dubai.
“We have a challenge bringing the right people into Qatar because most of the best want to be in Dubai,” Al Kindi said.
“Everyone I ask ‘can we move you to Saudi Arabia or Qatar’ [they reply], ‘no I want to be here in Dubai, if that’s not an option there are other companies I can work with’. So I think that’s a challenge.”
Arabtec group chief operating officer Mark Andrews said the company had to pay “a premium” to get people to work in Saudi Arabia, where there were fewer freedoms and entertainment than in places such as Dubai.
However, Al Kindi said there were plenty of people happy to accept the compensation.
“Some people like to go to Saudi and go and live there with their families. But ... some of the people [you can] give them anything but they [don’t want to live there], which is a challenge, that’s a fact of life we have,” Al Kindi said.
“But for those who go there I think they enjoy it, they love it, they get compensated by it.”
Al Kindi said the cost of living in Qatar was about 20 percent greater than in Dubai, while the state had less entertainment and lower living standards for many.
Roger Nickells, Middle East managing director of engineering firm Buro Happold, whose projects include the new international airport in Doha, said his company faced similar difficulties finding appropriate staff but he was able to mitigate it somewhat by working with international firms, having a physical presence in their offices and then importing work back to the Gulf.
“Quality of staff is a big issue and a big issue for us whether we’re working in Saudi Arabia [or] whether we’re working in Qatar,” he said.
Atkins, a UK-based company involved in the design and project management of numerous projects across the Gulf, has moved 400-500 people into Qatar in the past 18 months.
Commercial director Simon Crispe said the company had faced several human resource issues, including the standard of education and quality of life.
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