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Sun 2 Mar 2008 05:53 PM

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Brain drain

ArabianBusiness.com's salary survey suggests high inflation is forcing large numbers of Gulf IT workers to look at opportunities elsewhere.

Brain drain

ArabianBusiness.com, the sister site of itp.net, has recently concluded its annual salary survey, and the results make worrying, if somewhat predictable reading for the IT sector.

According to those survey respondents in IT roles or that work in the sector in the Gulf, over half are planning on changing jobs within the next two years, citing rising cost of living and salaries that aren't matching inflation as the reason. While concern about inflation might not always translate into action, the survey would suggest that IT workers are looking for either a lot more money - over half would move jobs for a 30% pay rise - or else will be looking for jobs outside of the region.

With salaries for most low to mid-level IT employees nowhere near salaries in the US, and with only a third of IT respondents that are nationals of the Arab world, the Gulf is going to find itself facing a bigger struggle than ever before to keep its experienced IT staff.

Even if companies can afford to keep salaries abreast of inflation, the IT sector in the region is going to face increasing competition from the US, where the number of IT graduates is declining, and from the growing economy of India, the country of origin for one third of all Gulf IT workers. Post 9/11, there was a lot of talk about Arab nationals returning to the region, especially to the booming economies of the Gulf - already 20% of the Gulf IT workforce surveyed is comprised of non-Gulf Arab nationals - but this flow won't continue if low salaries continue to mean lower standards of living in the region.

I can see two likely effects on the industry going forward. Firstly, more offshoring - whether from countries near or far, new models of outsourcing are likely to develop, with a lot more reliance on remote services and management of IT. The technologies are now coming into place that make remote management more feasible, so long as enough bandwidth is put into place, and in the short term at least, outsourcing of some functions is likely to be a quick-fix solution to staff shortages. Which is good news for service providers, but not so good for the Gulf economies.

The second outcome is that training programs and initiatives with higher education need to be taken seriously, both by public and private sector. Regional governments need to take steps to improve overall education levels and invest in their youth, not put their fortunes into cosmetic projects with questionable long-term benefits. The IT industry needs strong, impartial engagement with colleges and universities to ensure that training matches market needs, and that students are excited about IT careers again. More internship and placement schemes are needed to build links to the next generation of IT graduates, and yes, salaries will have to improve to match inflation. The IT brain drain is a global phenomenon, but one that will hit the Gulf hardest if the region doesn't develop its IT talent now.

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tariq syed 12 years ago

Certain professionals such as IT, media, telecom and education professionals should get a unique discount, to pay home and office rents in UAE slashed to pay only one third of existing market prices. everything will fall inn place. These very industries need massive encouragement, due to rentals skyricketing rates in last 3 years alone the lifestyle has been totally compromised, to the extent that productivity is diminshing in the private sector.