Consultant poaching war hits contractors

Six-day working week is forcing top-level staff to leave building sites across the region

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By  Angela Giuffrida Published  November 25, 2006

Contractors are losing senior staff to consultants because of long working hours and a six-day working week. Engineers, project managers and quantity surveyors are among the key employees switching to consultancies in search of a better lifestyle, despite turning their backs on potentially higher salaries. The trend comes as a further blow to contractors as they struggle to attract and retain key staff for the timely completion of projects, and within budget. According to Charlie Parish, who recruits project managers for consultants on behalf of Hays, expatriates moving to the region are opting for consultancy work because of the more flexible working environment. “Project managers working for contractors are working ‘24/7’, six days a week, and although they’re working on projects that you wouldn’t find anywhere else in the world, they’re not enjoying the lifestyle outside of it. So they’re looking more and more towards shifting from contractor to consultancy, where they’re more likely to have a five-day working week.” Parish added that such a trend would be virtually unheard of in the UK and elsewhere in the world, and that not even the higher salary and relocation packages offered by contractors are not enough to encourage senior staff to stay. “It’s not a massive exodus but it’s definitely happening at senior level, and particularly among those who have brought their families to the region,” he said. “The bottom line is that while contractors provide a more attractive salary package and perks than consultants, they do get their ‘pound of flesh’. Whereas within consultancies, people not only get a better lifestyle but they also get to work on challenging projects.” Consultants are also keen to exploit the skills of key contracting staff, added Parish. “They like recruiting those with a contractor background because it adds to their skill-set, while in the UK, for example, if you sent a project manager from a contractor to a consultancy, he would be rejected straightaway. Over here it’s more flexible.” Although several contractors have looked into the possibility of shifting to a five-day working week, such a move wouldn’t be feasible in light of the current pressure on finishing projects on time, according to an HR spokesperson for Gulf Leighton. “We work a six-day week on our construction sites. People don’t like it, but that is more or less how all contractors work, and there’s not much you can do because the pressure on completing projects is so high. There has definitely been movement in certain skill-critical areas, such as within planning, as well as on the construction and project engineer side. And it’s getting more and more competitive, which is driving salary packages up at a rapid pace.”

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