Is the market suffering a recruitment crisis?

HQ has approved your expansion plan and the recruitment drive has started. But there's one problem: you're struggling to find the right staff. This scenario is becoming increasingly common and it threatens to destabilise the entire market.

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By  Andrew Seymour Published  March 1, 2007

It is no exaggeration to say the IT market in the Middle East has exploded in the past five years. Vendors of all backgrounds and pedigree have swarmed to the region - particularly Dubai - to assemble extensive operations encompassing the full shebang of sales, marketing, technical, channel, administrative and finance functions.

Dubai Internet City, for instance, is now home to 800 technology companies, while Jebel Ali has emerged as an equally significant employment base for the IT sector. The economic zones currently being established in Saudi Arabia have the potential to make a similar impact.

But has this unprecedented rate of growth forced the market to suffer a recruitment crisis? I am hearing increasing accounts of companies struggling to find and attract the calibre of staff they desire to enhance their business. Anecdotal evidence suggests the recruitment of accomplished staff is now commonly regarded as one of the steepest challenges faced by both vendors and distributors in the Middle East.

The catalyst of this crisis - somewhat ironically - is the fact that so many manufacturers are pumping investment into their Middle East subsidiaries at once. Building a solid infrastructure to grow a business boils down to the placement of good people, but that demand can only be satisfied by access to a highly-skilled labour pool.

Dubai still represents the primary destination for workers who take up roles at large IT vendors in the region. The local recruitment market remains burdened by size and fierce competition, prompting companies to source qualified staff from outside the region. That solution is becoming increasingly complicated, however. A marked rise in living costs and anxieties over property availability has dampened the appeal of a move to Dubai.

Interestingly, recent reports suggest Cisco plans to triple its headcount in the UAE this year. Is there the recruitment base out there to guarantee that the individuals it seeks are of the highest possible standard? I doubt it at the moment.

Dubai is not the only issue. At least two sources I've spoken to in the past month cite difficulties in persuading experienced, senior staff to take up positions in other Gulf countries. One even admits that it has been searching for a marketing executive in Saudi for the best part of 12 months, but simply can't find a willing candidate who fits its demanding job description.

It is common to see vendors solve a recruitment dilemma by poaching employees from their distribution partners and this is happening with alarming frequency, allege distributors. Many employees in this tier of the channel harbour aspirations to work at vendor level. They regard it as a step up the career ladder and therefore welcome any chance they may get to make the jump. However, the absurd result of this scenario is that vendors are then complaining about the distributor's performance even though they have plundered its best staff! Such an action doesn't solve the skills shortage, but merely transfers the problem from one layer of the channel to another. Just as significant is the relaxation of labour laws that has occurred in recent years. It is now far easier for workers to change horses, fuelling a much more dynamic and free recruitment environment, but ultimately one where the emphasis has shifted from employer to employee.

The point I am making is that the combination of all these factors suggests a channel skills shortage that could potentially inhibit the growth of the entire market. Will we eventually reach a stage where IT companies in the Middle East have a front-end sales office here and back-office functions somewhere else? If current trends persist then that proposition might not seem as radical as it sounds.

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