Whisper it, but is the job market in the Gulf picking up again? I only ask because after about two years of meeting no new arrivals to the region – everyone, apart from lawyers, seemed to have been here since before the crash – I am starting once again to be introduced to people who are wide-eyed at the price of petrol in the Gulf, and the fact that somebody puts it in the car for you.
Friends, too, looking for jobs are getting offers, in some cases, plenty of offers. Money seems to be coming back. With the price of oil so high, perhaps that’s a statement of the blindingly obvious. But it is a good sign. I have spent the last two years being extremely sceptical about supposed “green shoots” stories, but perhaps now it is time to start believing?
I interviewed the head of Starwood hotels this week – the very likeable Frits van Paasschen. He was on a whistle-stop tour of the Gulf, making sure all was well at the 50-odd hotels the company operates here. I told him about the practice exposed on these pages before – rife throughout the Gulf – whereby some hotels confiscate something like seventy percent of tips left to staff by customers and use the money to pay for housing and accommodation costs for those same staff. I asked him if it was a practice that went on at Starwood hotels in the region. He looked alarmed. “In many countries the staff keep the tips, I don’t know if the custom or practice is different here… It [confiscating tips] doesn’t seem consistent with the way it works in other parts of the world,” he said. He said he couldn’t comment further until he had looked into the matter. Please do let me know when you have, Frits. Money left by customers for waiters and waitresses, who earn very little in the Gulf, is a private gift that has nothing to do with the hotel.
Unlike virtually every other region on the planet, unemployment rates in the Gulf do not denote poverty, but rather the opposite. People without jobs here, in the majority of cases, do not have them because they do not need them. Trying to foster a strong collective work ethic in Gulf societies then is a difficult challenge for the region’s governments, who are growing ever more concerned by the need to create jobs for a population boom that is going on all around us. In 2010, Dr Obaid Mohammad Al Saeedi, the Dean of Oman’s Higher College of Technology in Oman, said there were 435,000 unemployed graduates in the Gulf, and projected this number could rise to two million over the next decade. Last week, an official figure of 13.1 percent was put on unemployment for nationals in the UAE. I don’t think that is too bad a figure, given the challenges in terms of education the UAE government is addressing to make sure Emiratis have the skills necessary for employment in a private sector that is becoming increasingly advanced. It is a start. European and American unemployment rates today, by comparison, all hover around ten percent. Gulf countries currently have massive public sectors, in which the majority of nationals work. In the short term, that is not a bad solution. The challenge over the next decade will be to improve education standards until local graduates are as well qualified as any expatriate graduate is, and then to retain him or her. The private sector in the GCC has the jobs, there is no doubting that. With better education, unemployment concerns will fade. It is no surprise, then, to see the likes of INSEAD and NYU opening for business in the Gulf. This will be the decade of education in the region.