The downturn in the economies of Europe and North America is forcing a growing number of construction professionals to look for jobs in the Gulf, providing a potential respite to the skills shortage in the sector.

The trend is particularly notable among UK workers, according to recruitment firms and employers in the region.

“It has been noticeable that there has been an increase in the number of executives in the house building sector seeking opportunities here,” says Matthew Carter, managing director of UAE-based recruitment firm McArthur Murray. “This is inevitable given the downturn in the UK market.”

Reports from the UK suggest that up to 60,000 people involved in the UK home-building industry could lose their jobs by the end of this year if the slump in the UK housing market continues. One of the UK’s largest house builders, Barratt Homes, expects to lay off 1,200 people out of its 6,700-strong workforce.

Recruitment firms say there has also been a noticeable increase in the number of people from North America looking for jobs in the region, particularly in the commercial, retail and residential sectors. “My sense is that we will see more candidates coming through over the next year as commercial and retail developers see a downturn across Europe and the US,” says one recruiter.

Contractors are also experiencing a spike in interest for positions in the region. One international contractor working in Dubai says his firm has received a flood of enquiries for management and professional positions over the past two weeks.

“We have been inundated,” he says. “As soon as bad news started coming out from the UK, people started looking for work overseas, and at the moment the best option is Dubai or Abu Dhabi.”

Despite the increasing number of people looking for work in the Gulf, it remains unclear whether it will cool salary inflation.

One difficulty for employers is that although many candidates may have extensive experience, they may not have the relevant skills for projects in the Gulf, which tend to be larger and built to shorter deadlines than in more developed markets.

“Most of the schemes in the Gulf are comparable with a major urban regeneration scheme in the UK, and as such you have to make sure that someone’s skills and experiences can be scaled up,” says Carter.

“We are seeing a higher demand and sometimes a premium paid for people with local experience and networks. Clients realise that a previous successful track record in the region is more relevant,
particularly in project management roles.”

Continued growth in the size and volume of projects in the Gulf, in particular in the UAE, means that the region is now perceived as a good career option.

In a recent survey of 15 countries by HSBC, the UAE was ranked as the second best place
for expatriates to set up home, behind Singapore.