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Sat 11 Oct 2008 04:00 AM

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Talent management

The lack of skilled project and programme managers is driving salaries for technical professionals through the roof.

The lack of skilled project and programme managers is not only driving industry salaries for technical professionals through the roof, it is also putting many projects in jeopardy.

Developers are already being squeezed by higher concrete and steel prices, but with escalating salaries on top, many projects are being delayed with profit margins eroding considerably.

In this light, perhaps the greatest challenge of all is sustainability, and to sustain the current level of development, talent must be produced from within, through training and development programmes.

Programmes that improve an individual's quality of life and career prospects are as important as the amount they are paid.

Industry leaders in the Middle East can no longer just buy-in the expertise they need.

This region is leading the world with iconic engineering projects, and bespoke skill-sets are not necessarily available.

Earlier this year, according to database company Proleads, the total projects taking place in the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) countries of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates is close to 3400, with a combined value exceeding US $2.4 trillion (AED 7 trillion).

Civil engineering and infrastructure projects of all kinds lead the way with 2081 projects, with a combined value of $1.3 trillion alone.

The sheer scale of all this activity is putting severe strain on the viability of some projects.

For example, ETA Star Group recently announced that their Dubai Lifestyle City project in Dubailand had increased from an initial $2.4 billion to $4 billion.

I would assume a significant proportion of that was consultancy fees which have risen anywhere from 40% to 70%. But if there was enough technical expertise in the market, competition would drive down market rates and in turn reduce project costs.

Companies must start to adopt talent management strategies to develop their existing and future employees. If they don't the consequences could be severe - delayed handovers, poor quality finish or worse still, negative profit.

Some of the more enlightened executives are starting to put this on the boardroom table by discussing how to attract and retain the right talent, and not just by throwing more money at it.

Programmes that improve an individual's quality of life and career prospects are as important as the amount they are paid.

An easy starting point would be to survey employees who are leaving the organisation and find out what their motives are.

Money is not necessarily the number one reason, but things like job satisfaction and career path also rank highly.

The talent strategy must ensure that there is a connection between the employee and the organisation that extends beyond the place where they can collect a pay cheque.

This could be as simple as linking the employee's performance with the organisation's financial performers.

Another easy starting point to developing a talent management strategy would be to implement an employee satisfaction survey to determine how satisfied employees are working in the organisation.

When these basic steps are implemented and followed through with a long-term strategic plan, an organisation will attract and retain the right workers to help face the huge number of projects coming up in the GCC.

If an organisation wants to be in business five to 10 years from now they need to pay close attention to their talent management strategies.

Those who don't will face project delays and cost over-runs that in the long run will affect the very survival of the company.

In recent years many organisations such as ESI have emerged that can help companies establish a talent management strategy and facilitate an internal dialogue between employers and employees.

Certain commentators believe that the Middle East market is not mature enough to embrace these policies.

And historically the private sector has been reluctant to invest in personnel development, concerned that one day those employees may leave and their skills put to use with their competitors.

But in reality the organisations building the GCC have little choice - they had better start examining these issues now, or risk being left behind.

If you would like to write for Construction Week in this column, please email rob.wagner@itp.com.

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