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Posted by Karen Thornalley

Jobs in the UAE – Expatriate Haven or Desert


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Traditionally the UAE has offered expatriates a wide range of opportunities to elevate their careers as well as tax free salaries with generous benefits, quality education for their children, lots of sunshine, blue skies and a thoroughly jolly time. I have personal experience dating back to 1978 when I jumped on the exodus wagon and plucked my very young wife from the jaws of a biting English north wind and settled into the delights of the Arabian Nights in a pre-pavement Dubai. I kept her (my wife) in expatriate splendour for 15 years until she had a mild sense of humour failure and we returned to English floods and taxation to set up our recruitment company The McNair Partnership. That was then and now 18 years later, we have helped many eager recruits relocate to the UAE and other parts of the MENA region during the course of the various economic phases of the UAE development. We have offices in Europe and in Dubai and speak with a degree of experience although I apologise profusely if I stray off-piste at any time. (That’s the disclaimer out of the way!) We have been asked by the fine authors of this impressive organ to share our observations and current market perceptions over a series of articles that will focus on why one should consider a career move to the UAE looking at the benefits and disadvantages; the sectors that are hot and growing and the ones that are looking top heavy; some ideas as to how to gain visibility with your CVs with some anecdotal recollections as well as some fairly obvious strategies that might be helpful; how to present yourself at interview stage and at the risk of stating the blindingly obvious , suggest some techniques that have helped many of our candidates even those who fall into the category of ‘LONAHS’…. little or no apparent hopers. A quick summary of where the UAE market is today… climbing out of economic pause (for want of a better word) and recognising some regional instability (fortunately at a distance) many sectors are humming with activity; Financial Services (Investment Management and Private Banking), Compliance and Regulatory, Accountancy, Construction & Real Estate (rental and sales), Oil and Gas, EPC (Engineering, Procurement and Construction), Healthcare, FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) and other retail activity, Education and legal. Dubai and Abu Dhabi primarily are building again with the consequential need for support services across the wide spectrum of the above activities. The markets are hungry for those who can sell across any of the above sectors - those who can win business and generate revenues. The only disadvantage to individuals coming from outside of the region is the possible lack of an established local network. This can however be overcome by tenacious and bright individuals. There is also a great demand for those with technical knowledge and professional qualifications in the above sectors from recognised Bodies. In this respect, there is still a hunger for western qualifications (any age including the silver hair brigade) and experience to engender skills and knowledge transfer especially in the technology arena… telecoms and mobile technology are changing so rapidly that individuals coming over from established markets are also in strong demand. Social Media is also one of the fastest growing sectors and is transforming the way businesses, regardless of size, are presenting themselves to their markets .. again potentially a massive growth market in the UAE. Salaries are levelling out and apart from certain pockets of madness are unlikely to create rapid wealth; it is important to look at the allowances that support the basic salary and align them to the actual costs of living in the region as well as having a variable bonus potential that is clearly articulated in the contract. According to some salary surveys (which can only generalise and sometimes mislead) there has been a small increase over the last 18 months of around 4% per annum but the divergence is so great that it would be impossible to capture accurately what each sector should be paying. Be careful though as general costs are rising sharply with rentals going up by 20 – 30% over a similar period. The sun shines most days and there is a buzz of excitement but before you buy the one way ticket, conduct your own enquiry and seek the guidance of a mentor who has lived the life for a while and can be objective.

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