James Toye, Consultant in Marketing, Hana Rosli, Associate Consultant in Technology, and Rachel Agrippa, Consultant in Outsourced Professionals at Hays, discuss how the industry is tackling a dynamic but changing job market.
Following two years of upheaval, optimism for the region’s business environment was in the air back in January, when recruitment agency Hays’s 2022 GCC Salary Guide was published. The report indicated that 73% of employers were expecting staffing levels to increase even further this year, in particular in Saudi Arabia where 80% of employers were planning to increase employee numbers. Today, this positive outlook has generally proven correct.
According to the guide, “2021 saw a stabilized pandemic situation and a return in business confidence, resulting in an active jobs market. 40% of organizations increased their headcount with only 22% decreasing headcount in 2021, a complete inverse to the previous year where 45% of organizations decreased headcount and only 19% increased.” And Consultant in Marketing at Hays James Toye tells Communicate that “This trend continued into 2022, with the marketing and advertising industry experiencing growth.”
For the experts at Hays, this growth has been driven by accelerated digitalization during the pandemic, with many companies moving their core marketing to online platforms and thus increasing the demand for digital marketing roles. “This shift continues to attract marketers with more specialized digital, technical, and analytical skills. Organizations building out their marketing teams, particularly digital teams, are hiring from the top down. Mid-to-senior level digital marketing roles are in highest demand: digital marketing managers/heads, insights & analytics managers/heads, CX specialists, data analysts, data scientists, and e-commerce managers/directors,” explains Toye.
However, he continues, from a job-seeker’s perspective, “the most competitive roles tend to be more junior roles, traditional marketing and generalist roles, and BTL marketing roles.” How this gap between offer and demand will play out remains to be seen, especially since the trend toward digitalization translates into a growing disparity in salaries as well. Toye says that salaries in the marketing and advertising space have returned to pre-pandemic levels and that the market has recovered well, with some organizations offering salary increases. “In a talent-short market, employers are realizing the value of loyal employees with the right skillset and local experience, and adjusting remuneration accordingly,” he explains.
But Hana Rosli, Associate Consultant in Technology at Hays, adds that the digital/technology sector is leading the salary surge, due to an increase in demand for technology talents driven by accelerated digitalization and increased foreign direct investment by global tech companies. “Tech companies are growing their teams and global tech companies are expanding into the Middle East and, therefore, building their capabilities here. Moreover, there’s a scarcity of strong talents available within the local market which increases competition for candidates with such technical skills,” she says.
Enticing talent to come and stay – or not
So, to attract the talent they need in this competitive landscape, employers, including in our industry, are considering different or enhanced compensation and reward schemes.
“Competitive or above-market-rate salaries continue to rank highly in attracting and retaining employees […] Salary is always a key factor when employees are considering a new employer, followed by career progression and development opportunities,” says Toye. This is why additional financial benefits are a potential solution for employers striving to bring in the right talent. For example, “In the UAE, child education allowance is the most sought-after incentive/benefit, particularly in attracting top mid-to-senior level employees. A trend is emerging in this industry whereby businesses that may not have previously offered child education allowances are now offering partial or full allowances,” Toye explains.
Yet, Rosli says that some workers have become interested in non-monetary benefits as well. “Employee wellness programs/incentives are relatively new/innovative and include subsided healthy meal plans, subsided gym memberships, and health insurance packages that cover mental health and wellness, etc.,” she explains. Some employers are also offering employees the opportunity to work a number of weeks overseas or from their country of origin. “Considering the UAE is made up of approximately 88% of expats, this is an attractive incentive for expats to spend more time with family members without using their statutory annual leave,” says Toye. And, for employees in the digital/technology field, “Another popular scheme is sponsored/funded technical training, enabling workers to upskill and further their industry knowledge, and obtain additional certifications,” adds Rosli. A recent report published by Hays and Go1, the ‘Global Mindset Report 2022,’ noted that organizations that will continue to perform well are those that provide their employees with the right learning and training to further enhance their foundational skills such as problem-solving, decision-making,
and communication. Toye and Rosli both reference this report as a source of information for employers and employees interested in finding up-to-date information about learning and upskilling in the new world of work.
However, one of the most important factors for professionals considering a new employer or role turns out to be flexible working, or lack thereof, according to Hays’s GCC Salary Guide 2022. “Following the pandemic, working from home became part of the new normal for many office-based workers. With employees enjoying a better work-life balance, this triggered a desire for a permanent shift in working models to hybrid and remote working. Employees who were asked to return to the traditional working model of five days per week in the office were more likely to leave their job in 2022,” says Toye.
Flexiwork or the possibility to work from home may therefore becomes a critical fracture line between employers and job-seekers at a time when more than half of organizations operating in the region offer no such options, as per the Hays GCC Salary Guide 2022. “It’s clear that employees value flexible working; therefore, organizations should, where possible, incorporate it into their attraction and retention strategies. Employers who offer flexible working options are at a distinct advantage to attract and retain the best talent in comparison to those that are reluctant to allow regular or widespread homeworking,” says Toye.
Lastly, employers really need to pay attention to building the right culture, whether employees are working from home or not. Indeed, another common driver behind employees’ decisions to change jobs in 2022 was unsuitable/negative work environments, according to Hays’s team. “Working in a company with a positive culture that is inclusive and diverse, and that promotes organizational and personal growth is a priority for a lot of people now, particularly young, rising talent,” says Rosli.
Moving away from traditional employment. With all of the above in mind, it’s not really a surprise that fixed-term contracts and freelance offers are increasingly being considered by both employers and job-seekers, supported in the UAE by new types of visas that allow for a more diverse approach to working.
“As a consequence of the pandemic, a lot of marketing, communications, and creative professionals acquired their own freelance visas, making it more cost-effective for companies to hire them. From the perspective of the contractor/freelancer, these roles are often remote and tend to offer more flexibility than a permanent contract. In terms of positions in the creative field, graphic designers, content creators, and social media specialists might work project-based roles to build their portfolio and gain exposure to different industries,” says Rachel Agrippa, Consultant in Outsourced Professionals at Hays. “Within the digital/technology space, there has been an increase in large-scale projects and demand for data engineers, cyber security experts, and product managers has also increased,” adds Rosli.
Even though most advertising groups do not yet favor this approach, “Contracting is typically a great option due to the speed of onboarding workers from all over the world with unique/specialized skills for a specific project and over a defined period of time,” Agrippa explains. “Many businesses exercise outsourcing as a common risk-averse option for hiring before onboarding on a permanent basis, when the individual will then be included on their payroll. Additionally, organizations may use contracting to get around headcount freezes. For example, if an organization has reached their visa headcount capacity but requires more employees, this can be achieved by hiring contractors because they are not included in the business headcount. Finally, contracting has become a popular method of entry to a new market as it allows an organization to evaluate a market without committing to a legal entity.”
Not to mention the fact that a third-party, such as Hays, can take the administration and legalities (HR, payroll, visa) away from the organization, reducing the time and resources required within the company to employ and onboard new hires.
According to Hays’s insights, the industry is far from having reached the end of its transformation. “In the digital space in 2023, the metaverse should make a big leap forward, causing disruption within virtual (VR) and augmented reality (AR) and increasing demand for many diverse roles including digital architects, AR and VR engineers, digital/3D graphic designers, and content managers/heads. For marketers, this presents an opportunity to reach and engage consumers in new and disruptive ways, particularly millennials and Gen Z target markets,” says Rosli.
Also, “Social media networks will continue to evolve, and new networks will emerge. Growth in social media ad spend will continue as social media marketing remains integral to organizations’ marketing strategies. Therefore, demand for developers, social media managers, performance marketing professionals, and content managers/heads is expected to remain high,” Toye explains.
In particular, the digital marketing performance gap is yet to be overcome, which has implications in terms of workforce. Says Toye, “Marketers are allocating a large proportion of their budgets to digital marketing activities but struggling to show a return on investment. Companies that want to continue spending money on digital activities should also be investing in enhanced data analytics and hiring insights & analytics managers, data analysts, and data scientists.”
Since digital marketing and advertising are bound to not only remain but grow further and exponentially, both job seekers and employers would do well to heed the advice of experts and lean into the jobs that will define the future of the industry.
This article was published in Communicate's latest issue.