Con­struc­tion Week’s 2018 Salary Sur­vey shows a mar­ket on the move as long work hours per­sist amid an av­er­age-pay en­vi­ron­ment

Construction Week - - CONTENTS - WORDS BY JACK BALL

As the year draws to a close, CW’s 2018 Salary Sur­vey presents the state of an in­dus­try that may lose its mid­dle-man­age­ment staff un­less re­mu­ner­a­tion struc­tures are al­tered

Con­struc­tionWeek’s 2018 Salary Sur­vey is com­plete, and its find­ings show that there are some ar­eas for con­cern ap­par­ent in the Mid­dle East’s con­struc­tion sec­tor. How­ever, as has been the case years prior, with other data points of­fer­ing rea­son for op­ti­mism. Of the 119 sur­vey re­spon­dents in this year’s co­hort, more than half work pri­mar­ily in the UAE (64) and 18 are em­ployed in Saudi Ara­bia. The re­main­der are em­ployed in Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, and other Mid­dle East coun­tries. Most work in a mid­dle man­age­ment-type role – a depart­ment head for ex­am­ple – with 20% in a ju­nior man­age­ment or su­per­vi­sory role.

As was the case in the sur­vey’s 2017 it­er­a­tion, the ma­jor­ity of re­spon­dents in 2018 – ap­prox­i­mately 57% – said they would look to change jobs within the next 12 months. Speak­ing to Con­struc­tion Week on this spe­cific data point, Mark An­drews, manag­ing di­rec­tor of Laing O’Rourke Mid­dle East, be­lieves sees this fig­ure to be “ex­traor­di­nar­ily high”.

He adds: “I would imag­ine that’s more a com­ment about the fact that peo­ple are con­cerned about the work­loads [faced at their re­spec­tive] com­pa­nies, but are com­mit­ted to try­ing stay in the GCC. There­fore they recog­nise that to do that, they may need to switch com­pa­nies.

“There are spe­cific, com­pany is­sues. There are a lot of com­pa­nies that aren’t treat­ing their peo­ple right, ei­ther by de­fault or de­sign. I would cer­tainly be very con­cerned about that fig­ure [from CW’s 2018 Salary Sur­vey].

“We’ve just done an em­ployee en­gage­ment sur­vey and 90% of our peo­ple see them­selves be­ing with us in three years’ time which is com­pletely counter to what this sur­vey is say­ing. [It re­it­er­ates] the un­der­ly­ing [trend] that if peo­ple want to stay in a cer­tain re­gion, you’ve got to go by the project, not by the em­ployer.”

De­spite this, and how­ever alarmed em­ploy­ers may be know­ing that the ma­jor­ity of their work­force may look to change jobs within a year, those same re­spon­dents said they ex­pected to re­main in the GCC – wel­come news for the re­gion’s con­struc­tion mar­ket in terms of its ca­pac­ity to at­tract and re­tain top tal­ent.

How­ever, An­drews be­lieves this fig­ure says more about peo­ple want­ing to stay in the GCC for their life­style, per­sonal, and fam­ily re­quire­ments, and may have less to do with the job mar­ket here.

“I see a lot of peo­ple here that have got­ten used to and like the place; they’ve got their fam­i­lies who are com­fort­able here and would rather stay than go back to wher­ever their homes may be,” An­drews ex­plains. “I feel that’s prob­a­bly what’s com­ing through these re­sults, rather than peo­ple [say­ing] that there is a par­tic­u­larly at­trac­tive mar­ket for jobs.

“There are other mar­kets else­where that have a lot more ac­tiv­ity and are prob­a­bly do­ing things in a way that you could ar­gue, ca­reer-wise for cer­tain peo­ple, could be more stim­u­lat­ing. But peo­ple have got­ten used to a life­style here, and when a fam­ily is com­fort­able, they’ll be re­luc­tant to move.”

This point is some­what val­i­dated, given 22% of those sur­veyed said they had worked in the GCC for more than 15 years. A sim­i­lar fig­ure (23%) have lived in the re­gion be­tween 11 and 15 years,

with 22% now hav­ing spent six and 10 years in the re­gion.

Like An­drews, Robert Jack­son, manag­ing di­rec­tor for the Mid­dle East and Africa (Mena) at the Royal In­sti­tu­tion of Char­tered Sur­vey­ors (Rics) and in­terim manag­ing di­rec­tor for its Europe, Mid­dle East, and Africa (Emea) op­er­a­tion, be­lieves this fig­ure is “high when com­pared to other parts of the world”.

“It does re­flect the project na­ture of work in the GCC,” he ex­plains. “Many of the projects in the GCC are large, com­plex and chal­leng­ing which present a great op­por­tu­nity for pro­fes­sion­als to work on ma­jor schemes and in do­ing so ac­quire new skills and ex­pe­ri­ence that they may not have had the op­por­tu­nity to ex­pe­ri­ence in their homes mar­ket. This sen­ti­ment is also for­ti­fied due to the in­creased num­ber of projects that are to be awarded in the re­gion in 2019, adding to the plans of many pro­fes­sion­als to stay in the re­gion.”

Of those who in­tend to leave the GCC, Europe re­tains its crown as the des­ti­na­tion of choice, with 39% of re­spon­dents pre­fer­ring the con­ti­nent this year. Buck­ing the trend in the 2017 Salary Sur­vey, which saw 23% cite Aus­trala­sia as their sec­ond pre­ferred re­lo­ca­tion choice, the In­dian Sub­con­ti­nent was the 2018 co­hort’s sec­ond choice (19%). The Asia Pa­cific was tempt­ing to 14%, fol­lowed by North Amer­ica (10%) and Africa (9%).

“Europe is cur­rently a very buoy­ant mar­ket with sig­nif­i­cant in­vest­ment go­ing into in­fra­struc­ture and real es­tate,” says Jack­son. “Job se­cu­rity and pro­tec­tive labour laws are also very favourable in Europe once [ pro­fes­sion­als] are em­ployed.”

Av­er­age work­ing hours within the GCC’s con­struc­tion com­mu­nity ap­pear to have re­mained sta­ble year on year, al­though they ex­ceed the rec­om­mended pat­tern of eight-hour work days. Once again, the most com­mon cat­e­gory among this year’s re­spon­dents was an av­er­age work­ing week of 46 to 50 hours (38.05%). Around 5% of the co­hort claimed to be work­ing in ex­cess of 71 hours per week – a 3% in­crease on 2017 – while no­body re­ported av­er­age work­ing weeks of less than 36 hours.

Once again, air tick­ets home were the most com­mon ben­e­fit among 2018 re­spon­dents (72%). Ac­com­mo­da­tion or re­lated al­lowances came in sec­ond place (72%) – the same as in 2017 – fol­lowed by a com­pany car or car al­lowance (65%), com­mis­sion or bonuses (32%), and school fees or school­ing al­lowance (8%).

A peren­nial is­sue in the GCC in­dus­try re­lates to cash flow across the re­gion’s en­tire sup­ply chain. This dy­namic has been cited by in­dus­trial pro­fes­sion­als in­clud­ing Greg Kane, manag­ing di­rec­tor for WSP Mid­dle East, who told Con­struc­tion Week ear­lier this year that of all its global mar­kets, the Mid­dle East is where the firm must wait the long­est to get paid.

PwC Mid­dle East’s Cap­i­tal Projects and In­fra­struc­ture Sur­vey, re­leased in May 2018, also found the re­gion’s “gov­ern­ments and in­dus­tries con­tinue to face chal­lenges and pres­sure to per­form and de­liver ‘more for less’ on so­cial and eco­nomic in­fra­struc­ture projects, de­spite an in­crease in oil prices com­pared to 2016”.

When asked to pick the like­li­est cause of their de­layed salaries, ap­prox­i­mately 33% of all re­spon­dents cited pay­ment de­lays to their em­ployer from its clients. Six­teen per­cent cited in­dus­try-wide cash flow prob­lems as a rea­son, and poor fi­nan­cial man­age­ment by em­ploy­ers was a pri­mary is­sue ac­cord­ing to 13% of the re­spon­dents.

“We have never missed a salary run and we have no in­ten­tion of do­ing it,” says An­drews, speak­ing on the fig­ures. “It’s about manag­ing the cash prop­erly, but it


is chal­leng­ing in an en­vi­ron­ment where there are so many de­lays in pay­ment for what­ever rea­son. Cer­tainly, data ev­i­dence in­di­cates that there are plenty of main con­trac­tors and sub-con­trac­tors who have strug­gled to pay their peo­ple, from time to time. That is a pretty di­a­bol­i­cal sit­u­a­tion.”

Jack­son elab­o­rates: “There is un­doubt­edly an in­dus­try-wide prob­lem with a tight­en­ing of liq­uid­ity in the mar­ket com­pounded by pay­ment re­ten­tions, in some cases for un­jus­ti­fied rea­sons. It is in the in­ter­ests of all stake­hold­ers to keep cash flow­ing and make pay­ments on time where war­ranted. [They must] adopt rapid forms of dis­pute res­o­lu­tion and avoid­ance to mit­i­gate sit­u­a­tions where pay­ments may other­wise be with­held.”

In­deed, in the con­text of the GCC, An­drews says an ar­gu­ment could be made that some com­pa­nies “cur­rently trad­ing could be tech­ni­cally in­sol­vent or bank­rupt in other regimes, but they carry on even if they have got no money”.

The sit­u­a­tion, he ex­plains, has emerged from a com­bi­na­tion of an in­dus­try-wide prob­lem with cash pay­ments – which he says “is un­doubt­edly there” and “goes top-to-bot­tom in the sup­ply chain” – and com­pa­nies lack­ing the dis­ci­pline and at­ti­tudes to man­age cash prop­erly.

“It seems like most com­pa­nies in our in­dus­try are [cur­rently] strug­gling to get work, and I think that [cov­ers] con­trac­tors, con­sul­tants, and de­vel­op­ers; there’s a def­i­nitely a slow­down go­ing on, and when peo­ple can’t see where their next job is in a par­tic­u­lar com­pany but want to stay in the mar­ket here, they will be pre­pared to move,” he adds.

Con­struc­tion Week’s an­nual Salary Sur­vey, as a rule, serves to shed fur­ther light on the trends caus­ing con­cern for em­ploy­ees and, by ex­ten­sion, re­gional em­ploy­ers. Much in the same light as the 2017 it­er­a­tion, this year’s re­sults in­di­cate broader eco­nomic chal­lenges such as cash flow and sup­ply chain man­age­ment con­tinue to dom­i­nate the nar­ra­tive.

More­over, in a sim­i­lar vein to 2017, the ma­jor­ity of em­ploy­ees want to stay in the GCC. But, with the ma­jor­ity stat­ing their de­sire to change jobs within 12 months, the no­tion that em­ploy­ees are eye­ing projects rather than com­pa­nies when de­cid­ing their next move is be­com­ing an ap­par­ent theme. Cer­tainly, re­gional em­ploy­ers will have to re­fo­cus their ef­forts in 2019 to en­sure they re­tain the best of their work­force.

An­drews con­cludes: “Em­ploy­ers have to pay em­ploy­ees on time, of­fer train­ing and de­vel­op­ment, the right op­por­tu­ni­ties for peo­ple to de­velop in their roles, and try and de­velop a healthy work en­vi­ron­ment for peo­ple. These are all things that em­ploy­ers have to ac­tively work on – it’s not just go­ing to hap­pen by de­fault.”


Em­ploy­ees of­ten get ac­cus­tomed to a cer­tain life­style in the GCC, says Laing O’Rourke Mid­dle East chief Mark An­drews.

Air tick­ets home were the most com­mon bene t among 2018’s salary sur­vey re­spon­dents.

Robert Jack­son, Rics.

Mark An­drews, Laing O’Rourke ME.

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