Shortage of skilled workers means GCC companies must step up

20 July 2022 6 min. read

Around the world, economies are struggling with labour shortages following the pandemic. A new study shows that GCC nations are no exception to this, with the majority of employees in Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE believing their nation had a shortage of people with specialised skills.

Economic transformations across the Middle East hinge upon the ability to source top talent. However, a survey from PwC has found that in Kuwait, 75% of employees polled said their country has a shortage of people with specialised skills. In Qatar, that number hits 60%, while in Saudi Arabia and the UAE respectively 58% and 46% of workers acknowledged the strain on available talent.

With that being said, respondents in the GCC region are according to PwC’s survey also confident that their employers are prioritising upskilling to help fill the apparent talent gap.

Respondents who believe their country has a shortage of people with specialised skills

Indeed, the accounting and consulting firm found that nearly half of GCC employers consider upskilling-focused training a priority, higher than the global average of 40%.

At the same time, firms are reportedly adopting multiple different tactics to attract and retain new talent in the tightening labour market. A round-up of the five most cited initiatives.

1. Upskilling

The importance of training to GCC work is illustrated by the fact that over 60% of respondents told PwC that some kind of specialist knowledge was a necessity in their jobs.

In order to attract talent, then, employers need to accommodate opportunities for workplace education in their offices. This will help build trust and loyalty within a company for existing workers, who feel they can obtain high-value knowhow by sticking around, while also pulling in new workers.

Actions employers are taking to address skills and labour shortages (% of respondents)

2. Flexible working

One way that many employers around the world are now trying to win over prospective workers is by offering flexible working. Coming out of the pandemic, many staff now know they can work comfortably from home, at least some of the time – and 63% of respondents to PwC’s GCC poll agreed they could perform their job remotely.

However, 28% said they were stuck in full-time office-based roles. With 77% preferring to alter this, it is fast becoming a mode of working which bosses cannot afford to ignore.

Flexibility makes hybrid work models succeed

3. Wage boosts

Most obviously, when it comes to obtaining and retaining talent in a market which – at the moment – favours sellers of labour over its buyers, bosses cannot keep expecting to bring people onboard without offering a good rate of pay. Workers in the Middle East are even more fed up with their lot than the global average, too, with 54% saying they would ask for a raise soon, compared to 35% around the world.

Posing a risk for employers, younger workers – the future of the workforce – were more likely to leave to seek a new employer if their demands were not met.

Most important factors when considering a job change % of respondents

4. Supporting wellbeing

Supporting staff welfare has become increasingly pronounced, during the pandemic era. Firms which do more to help staff suffering from mental or physical ailments have happier, more productive workforces – while staff are more likely to be loyal to them.

At the moment, however, only 33% of staff told PwC’s researchers their employer had helped them manage their wellbeing. A minority of 41% also said their boss had helped improve diversity and inclusion – suggesting a majority of employers were not working effectively to prevent sections of their staff being alienated at work.

Has your employer provided support and resources to help you with any of the following?

5. Automation

Many companies are treating automation as a fail-safe at the moment. With human labour in short supply, some forward thinking companies are looking to upgrade their technology infrastructure, to pick up some of the slack. Around 32% of employees in the Middle East said their companies were using technology to automate and upgrade the workplace, slightly more than the global survey average.

This also saw 41% worried about their jobs being replaced by new technologies over the next three years – though it remains to be seen how effectively this automation can be implemented without skilled labour to install it.

Further reading: 4 in 10 UAE workers perceive automation as a job threat (BCG report).

Beyond these five initiatives, there are of course other ways companies can improve their attractiveness to new hires. Tapping into international talent could help bulk up the workforce, and bring in technological knowhow which is not currently common in the GCC.

Meanwhile, in terms of retention, some firms also favour enrichment programmes and team-building weekends. Others look to emphasise the purpose their work can give to the lives of workers – allowing for volunteering to charitable causes on company time, or enabling staff to get involved fighting against global issues such as climate change.