The war for talent may have taken a back seat in recent months due to the ongoing economic crisis but will creep up again once things get back to normal levels and we witness growth. The battle for talent will stay with us and it will be not just among companies but also among countries and region as we progress ahead, say experts.
According to Philip Anderson, Insead Professor of Entrepreneurship: "The global war for the very best talent will intensify over time, even though in the short-run during this economic crisis it is more of a buyer's market for talent."
Agrees Siobhan O'Reilly, Recruitment Manager of BAC Middle East. "In the past few years the regional recruitment market was very much characterised in terms of a 'war for talent' as growing companies competed for skilled personnel. In a rapidly growing regional economy, good candidates were normally in a strong negotiating position and would often be able to 'pick and choose'. That dynamic has of course shifted dramatically in the past six months: employers are now in the driving seat and will remain so in the near term."
"In the long-term, most industries will continue to shift towards business models where companies offer solutions to their customers, not just products. Even in a basic industry such as aluminium production, customers expect their suppliers to provide them with a host of value-added services, not just metal at the cheapest price. Talent is essential when it comes to providing such services. The very best people are much more creative and effective in finding and delivering solutions for customers," Anderson told Emirates Business while explaining the reasons behind the fight for human talent.
According to Tomas McGarvey, Corporate Commercial Recruitment Specialist, Pathway Legal Middle East, it is [the fight for human talent] not a battle. "There is a plethora of enviable talent available, the trick is to have the mechanisms, resource and know-how to be able to identify and source this talent. Ultimately specialist agencies with a focus on vertical markets will always have a competitive advantage and will be best placed to find talent," he says.
As far as the UAE and the GCC is concerned, experts believe that talent will continue to flow here. "On the supply side, the UAE has made great investments in education and management development, which will help Emiratis become more competitive in the future. Many Emiratis benefit from going abroad for education or work experience before returning to the UAE. This makes them cosmopolitan people, able to work with partners from many different cultures, which is a huge advantage, although significantly more men than women benefit from this opportunity at the present time," says Anderson.
"On the demand side, the UAE remains an attractive place for foreign talent and will become even more attractive as cultural institutions such as the Guggenheim and Louvre continue to develop. Educated and energetic Emiratis should have no problem finding exciting local jobs, because a commitment to Emiratisation in both public and private sectors means the demand for them will exceed the supply for years to come. At Insead, we often work with Emiratis who have significant positions of responsibility at least 10 years before people their age would have high-level jobs in the West or Asia," he says.
O'Reilly believes that there is long-term optimism in regard to the region's ability to attract talent. "The region is continuing to invest in infrastructure and the tax-free environment is obviously attractive to many people, especially if the cost of living continues to moderate," he says.
"However, it is difficult to make precise predictions on the severity of the 'war for talent' as regional and international macroeconomic trends will be a key factor. If the GCC experiences an economic recovery before other parts of the world, it will obviously be in a stronger position to attract talent to the region."
"[Another] key question is how many professionals will leave the region if they are unable to secure employment. This will have an impact when recovery sets in and growth begins to accelerate again, as if a significant number of people leave, the market balance could shift very suddenly to one of candidate shortage," adds O'Reilly.
Anderson believes there will be no shortage of skilled labour. "The problem is more that good people will always have many alternatives and will go elsewhere if they are not happy. The two most important things a company can do to become the employer of choice are to ensure that each person has at least one supervisor who truly listens and cares, and to provide growth and development opportunities," he says.
According to him, a lot of responsibility lies on the shoulders of people who are in senior positions. "People usually quit bosses, not companies. The leadership and interpersonal abilities of front line supervisors is the single most important factor, and top-level executives must ensure that anyone who is responsible for leading people is a good listener who takes a personal interest in the employees under his or her care."
"Skilled labour looks for competitive pay, but as long as a company's compensation is in line with the rest of its sector, employees stay when they feel themselves growing and developing. Companies that build the capabilities of their people and then give them challenging work that exploits those new capabilities will attract and retain the best,' he says.
Companies also need to provide a long-term incentive plan for employees to stay, regular reviews and performance appraisals and provide targeted incentives for existing staff to leverage off each other and transfer and train each other with their respective core competencies and skills, adds McGarvey. "Also, it is better to hire one high-end individual than two or three average people; it is more cost effective, easier to manage, and there is a direct chain of accountability, something that is arguably lacking in many organisations," he adds.
Besides good compensation and work satisfaction, training and development should also be an important part of a company's strategy to overcome the shortage of skilled labour in the future, opines O'Reilly.
"Training and development will obviously be essential. This will need to be allied with a clear compensation and benefits strategy and constant efforts to create a positive working environment."
Moreover, a company should strengthen its talent acquisition strategy and integrate talent acquisition management into the company's overall growth plan to tackle this problem. "It's as important as air is to breathing. The more a company's growth depends on providing value-added services both to existing customers and new ones, the more people matter.
"The biggest constraint on growth when a company is scaling up is an inability to find enough good people. Companies that wait until they achieve fast growth to weave a talent acquisition strategy into their planning process will find it's too late; you have to plan ahead to ensure that people don't become the factor that constrains your ability to grow profitably," says Anderson.
Agrees O'Reilly: "At the moment talent acquisition has dropped down the list of priorities for most organisations and this is likely to remain the case until economic recovery sets in. However, it is increasingly recognised that effective talent management and talent acquisition are essential requirements for long-term success."
"It is crucial. For any growth to be successful it is imperative that those involved continue to be high-quality individuals. This needs to be equally considered when planning for growth. An ever-increasing percentage of our clients view us as their in-house recruitment team," adds McGarvey.
"We are on site with them at least once a week, have an understanding of the history, ethos and future direction of the company, clarity and transparency on budgets, constraints and operational risks. We can then provide reactive and pro-active recruitment and retention solutions; share market intelligence to deal with operational risk before it becomes an issue. This partnership approach has proven value-added for all parties involved," he explains while sharing his company's experiences with its clients.
Besides, companies will require new ways of thinking about employment and much more flexible arrangements to attract the best talent. "There is no doubt that moving forward we need to consider new ways of thinking, everything evolves. I think a more results-focused approach is needed. This allows tangible successes and makes it easier to address problem areas. From a recruitment perspective, agencies need to be able to represent companies in best light – as if they were an extension of the client's arm. Therefore, the more we know about the company, management, reporting lines, work culture, office environment, and context and timeframes behind vacancies coming about – the more we can be effective. Our clients have fed back to us very positive feedback on our retained solutions, which guarantees a positive outcome and mutual commitment for a small initial outlay," says McGarvey.
This may not be the norm at the moment when we are witnessing an employer's market but is expected to change as normalcy returns to the market, say experts.
"At the moment the labour market situation means that companies do not really feel the need to be particularly flexible. In the future this issue will really be determined by the supply and demand equation in the labour market: is the balance of power with candidates or companies?" adds O'Reilly.
Anderson also sees more flexible arrangements in the future but for different reasons. "Many Emirati men are quite concerned at the impact that high-powered jobs have on their families. The family remains centrally important in Arab culture, so Emiratis are quite likely to favour employees who give them challenging careers that have enough flexibility to ensure that good employees are also good spouses, parents and children to their own aging parents."
"However, talented women prefer firms that allow them to balance family obligations with work. Women face great pressure to be good mothers, and they feel a strong duty to remain the emotional core of their families. Companies that help them preserve their identity and family values will be much more competitive in attracting skilled people,' he adds.