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It’s complicated: recruiting talent in Dubai is a daunting task


It’s complicated: recruiting talent in Dubai is a daunting task


Ask the heads of most agencies in Dubai about what their biggest challenges are and, often, the answer will be hiring and then retaining talent. Even globally, these are not easy tasks. Competitive organizations need to ensure that the grass is greener on their side of the fence to really grow. Sometimes that translates into offering some pretty outrageous perks. In 2011, Forbes reported that AOL policies included nap rooms with a massage chair and, sometimes, a masseuse, while Facebook pays extra attention to its female employees by offering four-month paid maternity leave, along with reimbursements for daycare and adoption fees.

In a city such as Dubai, the job is in no way easier, with a high turnover and attractive job offers.

Communicate has seen everything, from slides inside the office to state-of-the-art gyms, on-site haircuts and R&R tools, such as ping pong, foosball, billiards and video games – anything that would make employees happy in and proud of their work environment. Yet, how can an agency with hundreds of employees gauge satisfaction? Surely, the human resources department cannot sit each one down on a couch and ask them to disclose their problems.

Maybe JWT Indonesia found the answer, when the advertising agency launched its “Happiness App”, in March this year, to track its employees’ satisfaction and gained 80 percent active daily users. The app’s “Mood” function asks employees to choose from nine emotions, including excited, challenged, mad and stressed. Unlike social media statuses that are seen by all, the mood is private. A notification is sent to top agency execs and HR when a staffer indicates a negative emotion more than twice per week. The aim is to have a manager talk with stressed staff members. Notably, the employee’s direct manager is not notified about negative mood selections. The app is still in beta mode, but other countries have expressed interest, according to the agency.

 Bigger, better, stronger

The job market has seen numerous evolutions in the past years. In the current “talent war,” many companies are developing creative ways to attract talented candidates, especially when recruiting for senior positions, or ones that require a niche skill. This evolution has included using video games in some parts of the world. Gamification, or the use of gaming principles and design in non-gaming situations, identifies potential employees by posing virtual challenges that require the skills necessary for a given job.

Hiring in the region has, undoubtedly, moved online in the past few years, with most recruiters telling Communicate that LinkedIn is their number one choice to look for future talent. Indeed, with more than nine million active users in the MENA region alone (as per LinkedIn’s statistics), it is too valuable a platform to not be used.

Posting jobs is also not limited to the agency’s website anymore, with many citing Facebook and Twitter as other resources. “In an age when top talent is so widely spread, creative solutions are the only way to keep up with the latest hiring trends,” says Robyn Brown, regional recruitment executive at Mediacom.

“Unfortunately, it’s no longer enough to just depend on the company website and job postings, and, quite often, the best person for the job is the one that is not looking. LinkedIn allows the recruiter to establish the initial connection and gauge the candidate’s level of interest, prior to the formal exchange of information.”

Yet, whether social media is a blessing in disguise, or a curse, is an ongoing debate. “Social media in recruiting is a blessing when it’s well managed and handled,” says Ricarda Ruecker, MCN’s vice-president of talent and development.

Leila Abdel-Malak, regional HR director at TBWA\RAAD, also speaks highly of the social networking’s ability to facilitate the recruiting process. “With social media, we have the ability to access recommendations and feedback, even before we meet potential candidates.”

Digital recruiting is also a blessing when there are time constraints, says Maya AlKury, senior manager of recruitment and human capital development at VivaKi MENA. “Social media is an integral part of our recruitment strategy. It strengthens the caliber of candidates we have access to, broadens the search and definitely helps the company in filling vacancies faster. What we find the most useful in technology is that it minimizes the duplication of job applications.”

Job interviews, at least for the first round, have moved to video calling, using platforms such as Skype. “This gives a clear first impression and it’s good to have the initial conversation and see each other, while saving time and money,” explains Reucker.

 Hiring woes

 Recruiting the right talent in Dubai may be challenging, but finding the right people for some specific roles, such as in digital, is sometimes an impossible mission. With news of agencies hiring nuclear scientists and mathematicians, it doesn’t seem to be getting easier in the near future.

“It can be difficult to recruit local specialized talent and, unfortunately, the [availability of] a limited number of candidates has resulted in unrealistic salary expectations. However, social media has allowed us to approach a global candidate pool, which increases our choice,” says Brown.

According to a 2012 June research by staffing agency The Creative Group, more than half (52 percent) of respondents said that it is challenging to find creative professionals today. This dilemma is also present in the region, especially with some positions, such as in digital media.

According to Reucker, some digital areas are not fully developed in the region and the same applies for analytics. “Agencies are still struggling to find the right talent when it comes to specialized digital entities. Recruiting for roles such as statisticians require a skillset that most recruiting managers do not have,” says AlKury. “With agencies venturing into building technology, they are now fighting for talents from big companies, such as Google, Yahoo and tech startups…These specialists would rather be in tech companies, because they can nurture curiosity and have a different learning curve, when compared with agencies that are still in the infant stage.”

Given the digital boom, age has been questioned when hiring for certain positions in the industry. Increasingly, younger and tech-savvy individuals are taking over the digital departments. Brown says: “Experience is more of a prerequisite than age; however, given the culture of the organization and the youthful vibe of the industry, yes, a certain age range is considered when recruiting for particular positions. Ideally, you would find that higher-level management positions would have older incumbents, primarily due to experience. Whereas social media/community management positions, for example, are usually held by younger employees who have been brought up in this age of technology.”

 Don’t worry, be happy

The nature of Dubai as a city and the advertising industry as a whole make it challenging to retain employees at times. This transient culture does little to employees’ loyalty. The region’s industry is also very small and people know each other. This leads to job appointments frequently made through word-of-mouth and, even more so, to a very high turnover.

“Dubai’s workforce comprises mostly expats, so having such a volatile composition creates loyalty concerns,” says AlKury. “With the boom of specific industries in the region, such as real estate and oil and gas, retention becomes a burden on other industries. So companies must think of creative ways to keep employees engaged and loyal.” Therefore, VivaKi offers employees
extensive benefits programs, which are developed each year, she says.

Others look more into the culture and work environment . “We put a lot of effort into retaining our talent. Looking at FP7 in Dubai, as an example, it has created an amazing culture and people love working there. Yes, they work hard, but also have lots of fun together; they share, discuss, learn together, have sports activities, or just go out socially as a team. We check the happiness of our staff on a
yearly basis [through] surveys to crtique, and take clear actions when required,” says Reucker.

Employees’ feedback seem to be working well with Mediacom. “The competition between media agencies, coupled with the small industry talent pool here in Dubai (and other GCC countries), means that everybody is constantly open to exploring the next best opportunity, even if they are not necessarily looking to switch employers. Aside from ensuring that our salaries are competitive and offering our employees career planning and a comprehensive training program, we also aim to make our agency a great place to work, by running employee surveys, which allows us to listen, learn and action the feedback from our colleagues,” says Brown.

TBWA/RAAD emphasizes the concept of family among employees. “We have designed an office that embodies a feeling of being at home for our employees. Features such as our indoor basketball court and indoor garden, pool tables, bar football and massive beanbags allow our team members to be creative and have fun at the same time. We do not tolerate a political culture, because we genuinely care about our people and want them to feel a sense of belonging here,”
says Abdel-Malak.


 Winds of change

 The advertising and marketing industry has gone through a testing time in 2012. Many agencies imposed hire freezes, while salaries were staggering. However, the industry is on the road to recovery, with the digital market increasingly flourishing. The shortage of talent  ensures that both vacancies and salaries remain suitably higher than in other areas of the world.

According to the “2013 UAE Salary Guide”, by recruitment firm Morgan McKinley, salaries across the board have not increased, but remain higher than their counterparts in Europe and the UK. The key area where salaries may well be on the rise is in sales.

“The industry is definitely booming with digital orientation and innovation being at the forefront of competition. We do face some difficulties, especially in more specialized roles and agencies are often caught in the middle as clients try to push fees down, but employees, of course, always want more,” says Brown.

“During 2013, companies have been and are recruiting, and there are many opportunities out there. However, I believe that companies are getting more and more selective, with expectations set higher. Candidates need to prove that they are well qualified, they need to be up-to-date about markets, consumer trends, industry developments and their skills. It goes without saying that they must be digitally savvy, as well as more flexible and adaptable,” says Reucker. “Salaries are stable and growing with inflation.”

Abdel-Malak saw a bit of power imbalance created by some agencies last year. “A lot of smaller agencies have offered senior positions to very young talent, in a bid to compete with larger competitors, which can create challenges throughout the industry. We do not have any hiring or salary freezes in place. Salaries are increasing as per agency policies,” she says.

Even though Alkury saw 2013 as another year of slow growth and anemic hiring, due to the region’s political and economic instability, she doesn’t feel the same way about the industry now.

“In the world of marketing and advertising – especially in the high orbit of multichannel, digital media marketing – that’s not the message at all. We were busy in the first half of 2013 and we still expect to increase our head count by the end of the year. Across the GCC region, the average private sector salary upswing has remained stable, but is much lower than pre-recession levels, although the outlook of which is still unclear for the time being.”

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