Hiring the right person

The IT jobs market is booming. But, as recruitment agencies and companies are finding out, a large number of candidates are applying for jobs without the correct qualifications

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By  Jane Plunkett Published  July 31, 2005

|~|recruitmentweb.jpg|~|It is a challenge for IT companies to find people with the right experience in technical skills; many candidates do not possess the requisite skills set.|~|Excelling. Booming. Buoyant. These are the key words coming out of the mouths of all parties concerned when discussing the state of the present IT market in the Middle East. Multinationals have come to regard the region as a successful emerging market, companies over here are investing heavily in getting highly-skilled IT professionals in place, and top recruitment agencies are saying this has led to rapid levels of recruitment in the IT sector. While the arrival of big name multinationals originally generated a lot of sales and marketing jobs, now the emphasis is on creating a backup team of technical experts. Traditionally many international companies would have had a base in the US or UK and brought their technical staff in from abroad to work as on projects here, but the new craze appears to be basing technical teams here to aid their sales and marketing operations as well, says Jason Knox, managing director at Indigo IT recruitment. “I would say there has been a definite progression in terms of the number of people being recruited in this sector and it is going to keep going,” he states. “I can see the curve growing. Many of the big companies are now coming to the region if they are not already here. You only have to look at Dubai Internet City to realise the names here and the amount of demand,” he adds. Alongside the numerous multinationals basing themselves here, recruitment within the telecom sector is also expected to really take off because of the liberalisation of the telecommunications market by the end of the year — 40% of the market share will be opening up, says Syed Suhaib, recruitment consultant at BAC. This prediction is shared by Ewan Walton, regional director at ITP Consulting, who presently claims to be in discussions with a number of telecom related companies who have some very aggressive headcount plans for Q4 and beyond. “We are in ongoing negotiations with a host of new companies committing to the region with some very exciting and high-profile projects in the pipeline. We believe this upward trend will continue for at least the next 3-5 years,” says Walton. Regional governments are doing their bit to push the IT market along too, according to Knox, by spending their oil revenues on getting top infrastructures in place. And he doesn’t see that changing. “All the building going on here will eventually want top IT infrastructures and that is only going to play into the hands of the players who are coming here to provide these services,” he states. ||**||The IT mindset|~|Knoxweb.jpg|~|Recruitment experts such as Jason Knox stress the importance of having a good IT qualification such as an MBA. |~|Indisputably, the IT market is enjoying good health and jobs within the market are rife. However behind the scenes there are cracks, and for one, finding the ideal candidate for the job is always a challenge. IT recruitment companies agree that often job applicants do not have the skill sets required to fill the available positions. Mediocrity tends to pervade, especially with high-skilled specialised IT jobs. “I would say there is a surprising amount of job seekers here in the region, but I would be cautious about the specific quality and experience available,” says Walton. Generally when it comes to middle of the road IT jobs like programming or support, companies don’t tend to have too much hassle finding qualified professionals. Companies are even willing to consider candidates with less experience for these positions, as long as they can be trained and found in the local marketplace, according to Samir Sabri, senior consultant, IT and Telecoms at Kershaw Leonard recruitment. It all depends on the level of expertise required in the area. However, when looking for people who have a wealth of experience in technical skills for a specialised position like IT security, companies must look further afield, as that person does not often exist in the marketplace, Sabri adds. Emma Mallaney, a research analyst also at Kershaw Leonard credits the lack of skills available in some IT areas to the rapid influx of multinationals into the region and the fact that the jobs the companies are offering are so new to the region. “We are now playing a catch-up situation where the jobs were not here before and now they are here. So it is a bit of a miss-match that is just changing at the moment,” says Mallaney. However, skill sets of IT professionals have little chance of improving in the region if the mentality towards making IT training mandatory doesn’t improve. Training tends to be extremely important to an IT professional’s career. However, by all accounts, training in the region is really poor. There is a huge gulf, according to Knox, between what some companies consider an appropriate amount of training and what other companies feel is a good amount. “It is mostly individual training where each person works on himself or herself to develop certain skills,” says Sabri. “In general there isn’t much training going on within companies. Some multinationals do, but even the training institutions are not up to level to do such training. There are some good training centers in Dubai, but they are few and far between,” he adds. Taking the above factors onboard, Knox advises that organisations research candidates thoroughly and show patience in terms of choosing the right person for the job. And beyond technical skills there are a number of factors Knox also believes potential employers should consider. One such factor is communication, especially because a lot of the jobs are very client-orientated in this region. Business experience and knowledge of the market is also very important aside from IT skills, as many companies want staff with UAE knowledge and working practice. However, that said, many of the larger blue chip organisations are also looking for people who come from the western corporate mindset. “It is not a racially discriminating factor it is just that these people will have a very much ingrained process, ingrained methodologies, you know IT projects are very method orientated in approach,” says Knox. From the candidate’s point of view, BAC’s Suhaib says MBAs are extremely important in the IT job market in the region. A good IT qualification can affect an IT professional’s salary straight away, Suhaib claims. To fill the demand for IT staff multinationals in the Gulf region are paying good market rates to attract people to come work for them. But in general, according to Knox, Dubai packages have not really gone up in relation to Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, where there has been a steep rise in IT salaries. Indigo recently recruited an IT professional who was working in Dubai for a salary of US$200 000. He has just moved over to a job in Qatar and jumped to US$300 000 straight away. Qatar is willing to pay a little bit more at the moment, says Knox, who also predicts salaries for key positions will increase in Dubai, because it will not want to lose out on good IT staff. Walton also confirms that other regional countries like Qatar are serious when it comes to establishing a concrete IT market. “Saudi and UAE have always been strong areas for us but this is being closely followed by Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, North Africa and Iran”, he says. To recruit the required staff most multinationals go through recruitment agencies, which handle the hassle of sourcing, screening and interviewing appropriate candidates for the job in question. Recruitment companies go through various mediums and processes to gather suitable candidates. They will target their own database of CVs, advertise the positions available in local and international newspapers, specific trade magazines and web portals. By advertising in local press, the tendency appears to be that recruitment agencies get an absolutely phenomenal response in terms of numbers, but the actual proportion of quality applicants coming through is extremely small. Usually between 2-5% of applicants responding to local press adverts are relevant for the position, says Knox, whereas, he finds by advertising on particular internet portals, the proportion of good responses tends to be a lot higher, with between 30- 50% of candidates being relevant for the position. “I don’t know why that is. You know, we have had dentists applying for IT architecture roles with no relevant experience at all, or dog walkers who think that they can be IT project managers, which I find a bit strange. My message is don’t apply if you are not relevant,” Knox advises. However despite these contrasting ratios, recruitment companies in the Middle East find advertising in a newspaper or specialist trade title the best medium to attract IT staff. In Europe it is rare that people will advertise IT jobs in a newspaper, because they are generally more focused on looking for IT jobs on the web. People here are more inclined to pick up the appointment section of a newspaper and expect to see IT jobs advertised. And since most companies, according to Walton, prefer to recruit in the local market if they can, it suits recruitment companies to advertise in local press. Even for the specialised positions, companies will try and recruit here first and only on failing will turn to broader mediums of advertising, says Mallaney. Another process recruitment agencies use to acquire good IT staff for clients is known as ‘executive search’ or more commonly as headhunting. As opposed to advertising jobs in the press or online, headhunting is much more of a proactive seduction of a qualified individual from an organization, says Knox. Up until three years ago headhunting was unheard of in the region, says Sabri, nowadays however senior IT people will tell you they have been headhunted many times, he adds. For the next five years Knox thinks the trend for IT, despite suffering peaks and drops like other sectors of industry, will almost certainly be upwards. Optimism towards the growing success of the IT job market is echoed throughout the IT recruitment industry, and all are in agree that outsourcing companies are going to be the next big thing all over the region. “The future for IT employment is looking very positive indeed. Our existing client base is going from strength to strength as the market is maturing and expanding,” says Walton. ||**||

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