Gulf countries and Iran present opportunities but hiring is
With the growth outlook for China looking soft, companies
are seeking growth opportunities outside Asia. Notwithstanding political
turmoil in the region, the opening of Iran is raising hopes for new growth
prospects. I spoke recently with Ksenia
Pentchoukova in Odgers Berndtson’s Dubai office about the hiring
situation in the Middle East.
“Right now the Gulf Coast countries are in a cautious mode because of the
impact of regional developments on country budgets.” Ksenia reported, “Countries
in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) such as Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar have
historically been bases for international businesses that demanded highly
skilled workforce. Right now this demand has slowed because of low oil and gas
prices and also because of the military activity in Yemen . North African
business activity is also in a “sleeping” mode.”
Up until recent years, most senior talent in the GCC has been
expatriate. Now more local nationals are assuming commercial and management roles.
Research and development talent still needs to be imported, along with
marketing, product development and manufacturing. Industrial management roles
continue to be filled by expatriates.
Investors in the Middle East are anticipating the opening of Iran with optimism.
In the past, companies may have operated there under the aegis of a local
company. Now many family-owned businesses from the Gulf are looking to acquire
operating companies, as well as manufacturing facilities in Iran.
Iran exports $1bn in petrochemicals
With the biggest gas reserves of any Middle East country and
a population of 78 million, Iran has promising economic potential. Its
workforce is highly educated although workers will need training to upgrade
skills and to adopt global best practices.
For the next 5 – 10 years, Iran will need to import foreign talent
who can transfer knowledge to the local population. Iranians who immigrated to
various parts of the world during the last 50 years will be in demand to return.
Filling roles in the
Middle East is complicated:
quotas in the individual country need to be considered first. Gulf
Countries governments require that MNCs hire some percentage of local
nationals. Quotas are generally set by industry and can range between 5% and
- Next you must consider the passport and the nationality of the potential hire. For example
Syrians are not allowed to enter Libya and cannot be employed there. In Saudi
Arabia, hiring quotas are set by nationality. An individual will not be able to
enter any of the Gulf countries if he/she has travelled to Israel in the past.
attitudes and customs must be considered. “One of my Scandinavian clients
was determined to be gender-friendly.” Ksenia said, “This organization wanted
to hire a female senior executive to develop its business in Kuwait and Saudi
Arabia. But it does not work: a range of restrictions prevent women from
participating in public life in these countries.”
- Finally, companies need to have their fingers on the pulse of what is going
on. New laws and restrictions can be adopted overnight and not be publicized. Businesses
in the region need to be agile and build wide networks to gain faster access to
Ksenia predicts that over the next five years a lot of emigre expatriates with
Middle Eastern roots– particularly Lebanese and Iranians, will return to the
region. Middle Easterners who are now in Canada, USA, Australia, and Europe
will come back to work and/or to be closer to their families and aging parents.
The experience, education and skills that they will bring with them will help
increase the pool of regional talent to multinational standards.
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