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10 December 2023

War for talent: UAE firms fight for top performers

By Shuchita Kapur

Retaining top talent in the UAE is likely to become a spiky issue once again as firms compete against each other to scout and retain the top brains to efficiently run their businesses.

Competition for top talent will only heat up this year. The demand for top professionals will go up, but smarter companies never really let their top people go away even when the market was dull, say leading recruitment agencies in the country.

“Companies will compete for talent in 2013 and the companies that have maintained a reputation of looking after their staff during the downturn will be the ones that come out on top,” Jennifer Campori, Managing Director, Middle East and Europe at Charterhouse Partnership, told Emirates 24|7.

Even when the job market was not doing well in the past years, companies in the country had to look for talented professionals. “Firms will always compete for top talent irrespective of market conditions as this is a major way to retain and attain competitive advantage,” said Hasnain Qazi, Middle East Business Manager at Huxley Associates.

The competition becomes even more intense as UAE firms also have to face the tug-o-war from overseas and leading financial hubs.

“Dubai and Abu Dhabi have positioned themselves as top global markets and are, therefore, having to compete with other major financial centres – including London, New York and Hong Kong as well as emerging markets such as Sao Paolo – for the world’s top talent,” explained James Sayer, Director, Robert Half Middle East.

The most intense competition will be felt in sectors such as financial services and hospitality, and in functions like sales and marketing as the local economy improves by the year.

“The financial services market is probably the single industry where we see the most demand for expatriate recruitment, particularly in light of the wave of risk, regulatory and compliance initiatives that have impacted global markets. As the regulations are new, many UAE companies have to look at more mature markets to secure candidates with the requisite experience and knowledge,” Sayer added.

As per Charterhouse’s Campori, increased demand will be felt in functions such as finance, human resources, sales, marketing, and in sectors such as hospitality and supply chain.

“I think financial services will develop but there will be limited growth across investment banking,” she added.

“The recruitment industry is all about competition to find top talent. All companies in all industries and countries alike compete for top talent because they are well aware that their success relies almost entirely on their team,” Suhail Masri, VP Sales at Bayt.com told this website.

“All sectors are always on the search for top talent,” he says. “Based on our job index survey (January 2013), we can say that banking and finance (35 per cent), oil, gas and petrochemicals (35 per cent) and construction (33 per cent) witness a higher demand as they were cited as the industries attracting/retaining top talent in the UAE,” Masri adds further.

Qazi of Huxley Associates believes that demand for top-notch candidates will not be limited to any particular sector/s.

“It is very much a case of survival of the fittest and top tier candidates will always generate more interest in the market, irrespective of which sector they are in.

Right now there is still a good supply of top tier candidates in the region and firms will be able to identify the right talent,” he says.

To attract and retain these professionals, companies will have to ensure that they not only give the best pay package to their employees but are also able to engage them.

“To do so, employers need to consider remuneration as well as career advancement opportunities as many expatriates will look to the UAE as a short-term opportunity to build their careers. Others are attracted by the lifestyle and climate of the area, so it is important for employers to understand what motivates candidates and craft their recruitment and retention strategies accordingly,” explains Sayer.

However, demand levels may not reach the scales of 2008 (boom time).

“While a strong motivator for candidates to move is salary increases and more responsibilities, a major factor is now how stable the company has been, how the staff have been developed as well as how the organisation has handled things in the downturn. I don’t think we will see the hiring competition we saw in 2008 as I do feel organisations have learned from their previous hiring mistakes and want to ensure they hire the right long terms individuals,” explains Campori