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Fri 22 Feb 2019 11:05 AM

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Revealed: which Gulf job markets will fare best in 2019?

Robert Walters study breaks down prospects across key job sectors in the region

Revealed: which Gulf job markets will fare best in 2019?
The rush to hire good-quality Gulf candidates will create increased candidate movement, especially in Saudi Arabia, says Robert Walters.

Demand will increase quickest in the Gulf region for government sector related jobs during 2019 – notably IT, legal, finance, banking and HR, according to recruitment firm Robert Walters.

Its annual salary survey showed salaries in the Middle East will increase by 1 percent on average in 2019, with digitalisation at the forefront as companies look to optimise performance.

It added that salary increases are being affected by the roll out of nationalisation programmes across the region, with companies offering attractive expatriate packages for business-critical roles only, as the focus on hiring local talent increases.

The rush to hire good-quality Gulf candidates will create increased candidate movement, especially in Saudi Arabia, having a positive effect on salaries being offered to attract and retain local skills, said Robert Walters' study.

It said Saudi Arabia is likely to see stronger salary growth at 2 percent on average across all fields this year.

Jason Grundy, Robert Walters country head – Middle East, said: “The growing demand for nationals will continue to dominate the market as many companies aim to comply with nationalisation legislation. As a result, local market knowledge will be a key differentiator for all professionals across the region.

“In 2019, demand will increase in the Middle East for government sector related roles – notably IT, legal, finance, banking and HR. Meanwhile, demand for legal professionals is expected to remain steady across the Gulf.”

Grundy added: “The job market in Saudi Arabia will continue to be busy for government roles; we expect the private sector to follow suit and recover in 2019. Sectors such as IT, manufacturing, logistics, finance, banking and education will be key benefactors."

Below is how Grundy sees prospects for 2019 across each sector in the GCC region:


The positive UAE economy will accelerate the jobs market growth, primarily driven by recovering oil prices, the active trade and tourism environments and a pick-up in investment ahead of Expo 2020 in Dubai.

We expect that demand will be high for financial analysts, management accountants, business controllers, finance managers, chief accountants and project accountants in 2019. We will also see a number of roles being created within compliance and risk.

The Saudi government has predicted a 7.4 percent increase in total spend for 2019, which will likely increase companies’ confidence to hire. This, coupled with stringent Saudization policies, will mean that firms will look to reduce their expatriate headcount in favour of locals who have international experience. Saudi national hiring has doubled in 2018 and we expect this trend will continue into 2019.

The implementation of VAT in Bahrain in the beginning of 2019 will undoubtedly increase the number of tax manager roles, with large companies and the 'Big 4' all competing for similar types of candidates.


Banks in the UAE have many leasing arrangements that will fall under the scope of the new IFRS 16 standard that comes into effect on 1st January 2019. All elements of a bank, including branches, ATMs, IT infrastructure and outsourcing arrangements, will have to be assessed to evaluate the impact on their financial statements, operations and capital requirements. As a result of this extra workload, we expect an increase the number of technical finance roles in the first half of 2019.

The Basel III amendments (also referred to as Basel IV) to credit and operational risk are likely to be implemented in the UAE. This is expected to result in a reduction in the capital adequacy ratios for most banks. The methodology to calculate the amended numbers will require adjustments to systems as well as collection of additional data requirements, thus increasing recruitment needs across the middle office.

While many salary groups across the industry sectors will remain steady, initial indications are that we may see modest increases in key corporate governance roles within the GCC as demand outstrips supply.


As most industries have embarked on a digital transformation journey, candidates who have led or been part of large digital projects will find opportunities easier to come by, especially in the banking and retail industry.

Information security is a key area of hiring as businesses are maturing and starting to recognise the importance of having secure environments. Robotics, AI and machine learning have an increasingly important role within technology functions and candidates with experience in these areas will be highly sought after, especially those from North America and Europe. At the junior end of the market, candidates with a strong mix of interpersonal and technical skills were consistently in demand.

Strong commercially focused technology professionals with true business partnering experience had salary increases of around 10-15 percent. Senior roles within financial services continue to pay the most.


We expect another busy year with plenty of recruitment activity and movement, but no significant expansion of teams. As in previous years, we will see relatively high turnover rates with a number of opportunities opening up for candidates as a result. Sectors that will be hiring in 2019 will be energy (oil and gas), disputes and construction.

Dubai is being used more widely as a secondment/training seat rotation for law firms, giving international candidates an opportunity to sample the Middle East before moving, thus reducing the need for permanent recruitment. With Emiratisation in full flow, companies will be looking for UAE nationals.

Historically, salaries have been the key focus for lawyers when seeking a new role. Flexibility, career progression and team culture will begin to take precedence as a new wave of millennials try to rid law firms of their old-fashioned methods of time sheets and billable hours.


There will be an increasing demand for specific operational skills across all marketing roles; areas of growth will be within beauty cosmetics, FMCG and the food & beverage sector. The e-commerce market will continue to go from strength to strength as online shopping becomes embedded in the local culture. In 2019, salaries should remain the same with emphasis placed on attractive commission schemes for all sales roles.


We expect that 2019 will be a slight improvement on 2018. Oil prices are forecast to remain above $70, which is the most important economic factor in the Middle East. As such, demand for sales professionals in sectors such as technology will continue to grow whilst FMCG will remain stagnant.

Salaries are expected to remain the same, with only a marginal improvement to packages. Professionals will be swayed by opportunities that offer attractive uncapped OTE earnings.

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