While construction firms in Dubai are shedding jobs, their counterparts in Qatar see the downturn as an opportunity to source staff for their projects.
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Building, consultancy and engineering firms in the country have long struggled to attract key skills because of competition from Dubai, but they hope to take advantage of the redundancies that are sweeping across the emirate.
Developers, contractors and other property-related companies in Dubai have cut thousands of jobs in recent months as the financial slowdown has gripped the sector, grinding many projects to a halt.
“There were issues about bringing people here in the past, such as housing and schools, that prevented us from growing,” said Robert Hope, a regional director at WS Atkins, an engineer and design consultancy.“But I think there’s an opportunity for us now to get quality people in positions and move projects forward.”
WS Atkins, which designed Dubai’s Burj Al Arab and the suspended Trump International Hotel and Tower, recently made about 170 people at its Dubai office redundant because of cancelled or deferred contracts.
Mr Hope said the company expected to increase its market share in Qatar and Saudi Arabia, where projects could be resourced by moving staff.
“People who have already worked overseas are able to move easily, and we have a culture of this in the company,” he said. “So if there’s less work in one place, we have the advantage of being able to move people fairly easily.”
KEO International Consultants, a consultant on a number of tall tower projects in Doha, is hiring engineers, while more than 2,000 jobs will be created during the construction phase of the long-awaited Qatar-Bahrain Causeway, with work starting this summer. The bridge will cost Dh11 billion (US$3bn) to build and, at 40km, will be the longest bridge in the world.
“We will have to hire more people from everywhere, from within the company and other regional experts,” said Gerald Mille, the chief executive of QDVC, a partnership between Qatari Diar and the French construction firm Vinci Construction Grands Projets, and one of four firms building the causeway.
Qatar is also making huge investments in other infrastructure projects that will keep construction companies buoyant, including a new port at Mesaieed to be built over six years at a cost of up to Dh16bn.
About 12 construction packages will be issued for the project.Tenders for the third phase of Barwa Financial District, a Dh2.9bn business hub under construction in Doha, are also being prepared.
While property prices in some areas in the capital have fallen by up to 40 per cent and a number of projects have been deferred, Qatar is still expected to outperform other regional economies this year and expand by 10 per cent, fuelled mainly by increased LNG (liquefied natural gas) exports.
Local banks are being more selective in the projects they finance, but the country is well placed to fund crucial developments, especially those aimed at affordable housing.
Qatar’s current account surplus was worth about 52 per cent of GDP last year, according to Marios Maratheftis, the regional head of research at Standard Chartered Bank.Some of the developments under way close to Doha include Lusail City, a residential community, the Pearl Qatar man-made islands and Al Waab City, a mixed-use development.Mr Maratheftis said Qatar now had a “golden opportunity” to attract professionals from markets that had been more affected by the slowdown, although it might not pick up all of the slack.
“[Qatar] will take things at its own pace and will attract top-quality professionals from all over the world, but it will also be very selective.”Avik Rakhit, the head of Northern Gulf at Jones Lang LaSalle, said Qatar would be one of the beneficiaries of Dubai’s slowdown.
“You’ll get more companies and talent coming here,” he said.
Meanwhile, UAE construction firms with order books that have been hit hard by the downturn are looking towards Qatar for shelter.
Arabtec Construction is building Al Waab City, a mixed-use project on the outskirts of Doha, and hopes to increase its market share in the country as well as in Saudi Arabia this year.
“We can’t stay stagnant and are looking for growth where we see growth,” said Riad Kamal, the company’s chief executive.
“And it’s going to happen for us in Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
”Construction firms in Qatar are hopeful about their prospects.“
We see a slight rise in business in the first quarter,” said Jenoe Rulff, the general manager of Doka, a company that supplies formwork systems to contractors.
“There will be projects coming up and there will be a continued rise, but not at the level we saw last year.”