Middle East boom creates staffing challenge

As news emerges that Qatar plans to start construction of yet another megaproject in 2015, the 12km long Sharq Crossing through Doha costing a reported $12bn, the window of opportunity for consultants opens even further.

Right now Qatar’s Public Works Authority (Ashghal) is seeking a consultant to prepare tender and bid documents for the long awaited north-south link designed by Spain’s Santiago Calatrava.

However with opportunity comes challenge and for many firms the need to attract senior engineers to the region is paramount. Parsons Brinckerhoff, Hyder, Atkins, AECOM, KEO International, CH2M Hill, EC Harris, Currie & Brown, Arab Engineering Bureau, Parsons International, Louis Berger Group and Turner and Townsend International are just a few of the firms currently seeking professionals for roles in Doha.

What is more the roles are varied, from project directors on three figure salaries to principal designers, project managers, resident engineers, site representatives, quantity surveyors, planners, contracts administrators and claims managers.

That this is the case is not surprising given that figures from Middle East Economic Digest project tracker MEED Projects show that the country awarded over $19bn in construction contracts in 2013 alone. Most notable of these were the raft of awards made to consortia on the Doha Metro, which is instrumental to the FIFA World Cup 2022 infrastructure plans, as well major contracts on the Doha Expressways project to build new highways and the central Doha regeneration scheme.

"Recruiters report that the industry is now switching to become a “candidate short” market"

The project pipeline is extremely strong with more metro, stadia, roads, water and power infrastructure contracts to be awarded that are not just part of the World Cup plans but part of a longer 2030 vision. But Qatar is not the only country in building mode. Saudi Arabia, often referred to as the region’s “sleeping giant” in project market terms, has awoken with schemes such as the huge Riyadh metro absorbing international consulting resources.

Of course this is what many consultants have been waiting for.  Dubai’s downturn and financial woes saw firms focus their attention more sharply on these markets for just this very reason, and yet still firms were forced to shed staff and downsize in 2010 and 2011. At the same time consultants have examined their internal processes to ensure that the incidents of non-payment that plagued Dubai in 2009 do not re-occur.

Coming through the other side of this downturn Dubai too is now in recovery mode which recruiters say could make staffing Saudi Arabia and Qatar more challenging. Just last week industry experts gathered in Dubai at the Destination Dubai 2020 event to find out more about the infrastructure investment expected to pour forth thanks to the successful award of the World Expo to Dubai in 2020.

Estimates of $7bn to $9bn were discussed by government bodies earmarked for key projects such as the metro extension and the Expo site development. Situated between Dubai and Abu Dhabi the 1.68km2 site is adjacent to the new Al Maktoum International Airport and real estate firms such as Emaar Properties have already committed to development along this corridor.

For consultants then the window of opportunity has once again been opened wide as the Middle East seeks professional support to deliver its ambitious plans. But as home markets also begin to improve competition is rising and recruiters report that the industry is now switching to become a “candidate short” market.  As consultants continue to win work the resourcing challenging is becoming even more pressing and firms will have to work even harder to acquire and retain staff.

More research:

  • Deloitte’s latest research on GCC construction

More on Qatar’s Sharq Crossing

Qatar’s public works authority (Ashghal)

If you would like to contact Bernadette Ballantyne about this, or any other story, please email