When demand outstrips supply, you have the situation that currently exists within the MEP sector worldwide. The construction industry is booming globally like never before and Dubai is at the very centre of this phenomenon. Yet at the same time, the number of qualified and experienced high-level engineers and managers seems to be falling, meaning that contractors and recruitment agencies all over the Gulf are falling over themselves to find the perfect candidates for roles.
"Over the past decade the number of engineering graduates has decreased," says Sarah Crisp, regional human resources (hr) advisor, Atkins Middle East. "But at the same time we are seeing an increase in the amount of construction all over the world, in China, India, the Gulf, and places like South Africa.
"It isn't just Dubai that has a problem finding qualified MEP staff. You have the same problems all over the world. But you have the added problem in Dubai that you are looking for people with specific knowledge of high-rise buildings. At Atkins we currently have 400 vacancies within the Gulf region," she adds.
One of the problems that Dubai has in recruiting experienced MEP staff is that it is still a relatively unknown quantity to many people. "Many people throughout the world don't know about Dubai," says Gregor Black, manager of Duneden Recruitment. "There isn't the awareness of the massive opportunities to work on fabulous projects while having a lifestyle that you wouldn't get elsewhere. Salaries are being pushed up so much at present that people can get the same wage at home as they would here, so they stay put."
One of the knock-on effects of the decrease in supply is that salaries for experienced staff have rocketed in the last few years. "Salaries are going up all the time," says Crisp. "Project managers and senior staff can pick and choose where they want to work because they know they are in such demand. If you can find one that wants to work in Dubai they are like a god."
Not only are contractors having to cope with an increase in wages, they are also having problems keeping their staff once they have hired them. "We often have had to attract candidates through a very competitive salary scheme and brilliant benefits," says Ramina Hanna, hr officer, Dutco Balfour Beatty Group. "This often includes things like free housing and free schooling for children. But once you get the right candidate keeping them can be a problem as a lot of poaching goes on amongst the companies out here."
As if that were not enough, contractors also have the added stress of finding a quota of Emiratis to meet the Government's Emiritisation scheme. "Finding local engineers is difficult," adds Hanna. "At the moment we are looking to hire two every month, but we are having problems. Firstly engineering isn't a popular choice with Emiratis. It isn't a glamorous profession and it is quite intensive. Those who do choose it as a career option seem to prefer to work in government as the benefits are better and the hours are less."
There are a number of engineering degrees on offer in Dubai and some contractors are even offering training schemes themselves, but in the short term this is not likely to solve the problem. "The problem we have is now," stresses Black. "It's good that there is training there for the future, but it isn't going to solve the shortage we currently have."
Hanna agrees. "The engineering courses we have in Dubai are training the locals who will take over when the boom ends," she says. "They will take over the MEP jobs when all the expats have gone home."
Black does admit that some relief may come in the near future. "The construction boom in China appears to be slowing down," he says. "I think you'll see an improvement in the situation here as a lot of the senior MEP staff move from there over here. Once they're here people seem to stay a while. The lifestyle is good and once you've been here and experienced it, it's difficult to go home. I can't imagine a project manager from Liverpool wanting to return home to work on a housing development after he has worked on the amazing projects out here in the sun," he concludes.For all the latest construction news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.
Subscribe to Arabian Business' newsletter to receive the latest breaking news and business stories in Dubai,the UAE and the GCC straight to your inbox.