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Contracting and Construction in the Middle East: How Technology and the Engineering Skills Shortage are Linked

  • by: Steve Grisdale
  • On: 16, Jan 2023
5 min read

The engineering sector is facing a difficult skills shortage, even in the Middle East where the industry has been steadily growing over the last decade. This growth is actually part of the problem, as there is now more competition for skilled engineers than ever before, meaning smaller companies are struggling to recruit while larger companies can afford inflated salaries, hiring many of the best workers.

A staggering 93% of engineering firms in the UAE struggled to find qualified engineering candidates in 2021. So what can be done? And what does the skills shortage have to do with changing technology?

The contracting & construction skills shortage in the Middle East

Contracting & Construction has been growing throughout the Middle East for a long time, so one would think there would have likewise been a rise in the number of engineers.

But as construction engineering continues to grow, with projects becoming larger, grander, more ambitious, the industry just hasn’t been able to keep up with demand, meaning qualified engineers are becoming more precious.

 To make things worse, as the world has become more connected, and demand for engineers has risen world-wide, engineers have also moved from their home countries, further depleting the talent pool.

 Furthermore, as the Middle East as a whole is beginning to move away from fossil fuel extraction and refinement in an effort to become more diversified and sustainable, engineers who haven’t retrained or up-skilled to work with new technologies are finding work more precarious. The shift towards contracting & construction engineering projects has left many engineers uncertain whether to continue with their career paths.

And lastly, an industry focus on technology is leaving the human aspect of engineering undeveloped.

 How technology and the skills shortage are linked

Younger engineers are being trained on new technology, being taught skills for the next frontier of engineering tools, suites, and software.

However, when it comes to more traditional methods of engineering, they sometimes lack practical experience, being turned away when it comes to the interview process.

Part of the problem is the rate at which new technology is developed and integrated into the engineering workflow. Both technology and engineering move so rapidly, that by the time a specific course has been constructed, people have been educated, and then begun applying for jobs, they’ve missed out on vital practical experience, while the industry has adopted new technology or software that workers have learned on the job, leaving the graduates less employable than they thought they would be when starting their engineering education. Understandably, after months of looking for engineering work and not finding it, some choose to abandon the field before they even begin working in it.  

This is not to say that engineering degrees or training courses aren’t valuable, but that there needs to be a greater focus on taking that knowledge and applying it in practical ways that keep up with current and evolving best practices. Engineering firms can build that bridge, and help encourage and nurture the next generation of engineering talent.  

Furthermore, a reliance on technology like drones is pushing more engineers out of the industry. While no machine can yet replace the knowledge and understanding and experience an engineer brings to the table, there’s no denying that technology is fast encroaching on what human workers can accomplish. Nowhere is this more obvious than AI.

 AI is predicted to play a larger role in engineering

 Artificial intelligence will begin to become more common in industries around the world over the next decade, but especially in engineering, where it can improve efficiency, cut down on wasted materials, and deliver projects faster.

 Some career minded engineers looking to transition into project management are steering away from the industry, recognising that certain roles are likely to be entirely automated in the next ten years.  

There is still a future for engineers, but firms needs to ensure they are making that future as attractive as possible.

How businesses can combat the engineering skills shortage

Recruit and train graduates

 Some engineering companies are only focused on the latest project, and don’t have time to recruit and train graduates who don’t have years of experience. They want engineers who are able to walk onto a site and help move the project closer to completion. While this is understandable, it doesn’t solve the larger problem of the skills crisis.

From the same study mentioned earlier, over 40% of engineering employers in the UAE said that applicants lacked crucial work experience and necessary technical skills. But new engineers won’t gain work experience or technical skills if they aren’t given the opportunity to learn on the job. 

If engineering companies want more qualified, experienced workers, they need to start recruiting graduates, and commit the time and expense to train them. In the long-term, this will alleviate some of the pressures caused by the skills shortage, creating a larger pool of talent to draw from.

Younger engineers, with the latest training and knowledge, can help up-skill older employees who aren’t necessarily able to go back to university.

Up-skill workers

 One of the best ways engineering firms in the Middle East can combat the skills shortage is to up-skill workers to be able to compete in today’s marketplace.

As mentioned, new engineers have a strong grounding in the latest theories and academic skills, and can help train existing engineers without them having to retrain at a university.

 Likewise, experienced engineers can help train new recruits in tried and tested methods, which while may not be taught on modern courses, still have value in the field.

Use a technical recruitment company

One of the best ways to find skilled workers during a shortage is to use a recruitment company that specialises in engineering. This way they will already have the right connections, a strong talent pool, and the technical understanding of what the project and the wider business needs, as well as the kind of person that can provide it.

 While the contracting & construction engineering skills shortage in the Middle East is a complex issue, there are ways that the industry can begin to work towards a stronger, more resilient future.

Read more about how to hire engineering talent during a skills shortage, or learn about new technology in civil engineering and infrastructure.  

Would you like more information about how to help conquer the skills shortage? Talk to our Head of Contracting & Construction

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