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Comment: Are energy sector job prospects middling in the Middle East?

by Guest on Nov 12, 2017

Andy Ryan is the senior vice president for the Middle East division of Airswift.
Andy Ryan is the senior vice president for the Middle East division of Airswift.

Airswift’s recent Global Energy Talent Index (GETI) revealed that the Middle East is the third most popular region for job seekers in the energy sector – behind only North America and Europe.

The employment picture does have its challenges but, that said, people remain optimistic and the mood remains buoyant. So, is the Middle East considered a middling market by oil and gas job seekers, or is it a top pick for talent?

The upside

A small local population coupled with a wealth of energy resources means that there will always be openings for expat workers – even in countries with strict local content policies. Already, there is a wealth of opportunity available to local and expat workers in the Middle East’s energy industry, with large capital development projects on the horizon that could provide jobs for up to 20 years, such as Sabic’s oil-to-chemicals project and Saudi Aramco’s integrated refinery and petrochemicals development, both on the kingdom’s Red Sea coast. 

These types of ambitious developments have left oil and gas workers in the Middle East feeling exceptionally optimistic, as the GETI report revealed, with 48% of respondents expecting their salaries to increase or stay the same during the next 12 months. This is bullish sentiment indeed when many salary rates have been dropping for the last three years.

Interestingly, hiring managers were more cautious, with only a quarter expecting salaries to increase within the same time period. It’s this more holistic view of the industry that, in my opinion, gives the more accurate understanding. 

However, you could argue that this disparity in expectation won’t overly affect the workforce, as our research shows that remuneration isn’t the primary motivator for those moving to the Middle East. The area’s strength lies in its generous tax regimes and benefits packages, which can include housing, schooling, and end-of-project bonuses.

The industry’s downturn has impacted some of these packages slightly, and we have seen plenty of evidence of package reductions from clients to support this. These include things like smaller bonuses and more restricted health plans. However, many less experienced workers – who are not as accustomed to these benefits – haven’t felt the difference too keenly and remain enthusiastic about the industry. 

The downside

It’s not all rosy, however. After all, most hiring managers don’t expect salaries to rise, and reduced packages across the industry have made it harder for operators to retain an experienced workforce. Workers who have been in the industry for decades are finding it harder to acclimatise to the new, reduced benefits packages. In addition, they are likely to feel the biggest comparative pinch because they are the highest earners. Some of this top talent is even transitioning to other sectors, such as the process and infrastructure industries, as these sectors offer comparable pay and greater job security. 

Specifically, the industry in the Middle East also continues to suffer from skewed Western perceptions, deterring some people from moving their family due to safety and security fears. This is a shame, as it is almost entirely due to misconception, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s another recruitment challenge for local operators.

Taken together

These two views of the industry, revealed by the GETI report, may seem contradictory at first. On the one hand, the industry as a whole, and the region in particular, faces continuing headwinds, yet the talent remains largely undeterred. This is because, despite everything, the positives definitely outweigh the negatives, and the proof is in the pudding, as the saying goes. Airswift’s average number of monthly hires into the oil and gas sector in the Middle East has historically been between 25 and 30, and in Q2 of 2017 we have already made more than 400 hires.

I can personally attest that, despite the myths, the Middle East is a fantastic place to live, and to make a career within the oil and gas industry. And the optimism that pervades the GETI results suggests that many in the sector feel the same. 


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