Recruiters cash in on gulf boom

Against the backdrop of a British Embassy reception in Doha, Qatar, IT recruiter Adrian Treacy found himself talking with

Against the backdrop of a British Embassy reception in Doha, Qatar, IT recruiter Adrian Treacy found himself talking with a middle-aged Qatari man about a subject much closer to Treacy’s UK home.

“I was chatting to him about Aberdeen football,” Treacy recalls. “He told me had been the first Muslim to receive his doctorate at Robert Gordon [University]. We were just chatting away.”

The topic soon changed to business. “He asked me to come for a meeting the next day,” Treacy says. “He needs 2,000 people by next year.”

Treacy got himself ‘suited and booted’ in the humid yet dusty Doha air for a Thursday morning meeting with his new acquaintance. And when he returned to his hotel later that day, he had an assignment in hand.

“I said, ‘Give me just one job. Let’s get a bit of success. We want to make sure that we’re the right company for you to work with, and you’re the right company for us to work with.’ If it goes well, we have the possibility for 30 more [jobs] this quarter,” Treacy says.

Treacy, a director of IT specialist Arrows Group, was among recruiters who took part in a UK trade delegation arranged and led by the Association of Technology Staffing Companies (ATSCo) to investigate the pros and cons of doing business in the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

His chance meeting with the new client over nibbles and beverages at the reception was the kind he could only have had by visiting Doha himself. The streets of Abu Dhabi and Doha may not be paved with gold, or even black gold — and, particularly in Doha, the streets may not be paved at all. But the omnipresence of tall cranes, new glass and chrome buildings that are clearly intended to become icons of 21st century prosperity, and expensive luxury goods underscore the fact that there is money, serious money, in abundance in both locations.

“I’ve never seen such a huge construction site as Doha city,” comments delegate Richard Herring, EMEA staffing services director for technical recruiter Volt Europe. “And the range of nationalities — it’s like a United Nations gathering, and a meeting of East and West — it’s extraordinary. You really have got the world coming together here.”

The question facing most of the recruiters on the ATSCo trip was how to tap into this wealth and into the vast business opportunities that await the savvy here. “We didn’t come out here to win a load of business — we wanted to see the accessibility and scope of construction here, which is massive,” says Ashley Percival-Smith, whose Aspire Recruitment Group serves the IT, commercial, construction management, industrial, engineering, and headhunting sectors.

One of the most promising bits of information Percival-Smith and Aspire chairman Brian Hagan gleaned during the trip was that US $700bn (£414bn) worth of infrastructure work will be carried out in the UAE alone over the next 10 years. “We’re thinking if we can find the right people and get a little taste of it, it’ll be happy days,” Percival-Smith says.

For others, the dilemma was should they try, or not, to develop a Middle East operation. “I wanted to come and see for myself whether there were opportunities for the business we do,” says Nick Butcher, chief executive officer of Capital International IT Staffing, which specialises in IT’s real-time, embedded sector. “My sector constitutes a smaller percentage of business down here, but there is opportunity. If I could place 10 to 15 people here, that’s good.”

Other delegates’ companies already had some form of Middle East presence in place, such as a ‘fly-in, fly-out’ operation in which a recruiter spends a week or two per month in one location or perhaps has an office in Dubai, the Gulf’s flashiest urban centre. However, the message most often emphasised to the UK delegates was that relationships really matter here; those who want big contracts must be ready to invest.

“You sometimes need time to establish your business to pay dividends,” says Edward Oakden, British ambassador to the UAE, speaking exclusively to Recruiter.

“It may be that it will take a small contract to go well before you win a large one, because people here like to have an assurance that you are the sort of person with whom they can do business. And with all the competition, they like to see a company or an individual in action.”

“You can’t do this at arm’s length,” warned Prakash Bhagwat-Brown, CEO of Doha-based EMEA Enterprise Solutions, at a British Embassy briefing for the delegation. “You will have hundreds of ‘hopeful meetings’ — but they won’t commit to you unless you commit to the country. Reputation is absolutely everything here.”

The multi-sector FiveTen Group has a Dubai office, but three FiveTen representatives formed part of the delegation “because we’re looking at the commercial viability of the region as a whole — which areas are going to grow quicker than others,” explains Alex Raubitschek, managing director international for FiveTen’s EMR Group.

Raubitschek says he wants to understand the “triggers” for further growth in the region. Raubitschek and his FiveTen colleagues Toby Phillips and Paul Haslam completed the trip with exclusive briefs to fill “probably about 14 different jobs” across several different sectors. And Raubitschek doesn’t rule out opening another office in the Gulf. “The timing has to be absolutely right,” he says.

ATSCo CEO Ann Swain says this trade delegation is just the first, with more to come. And she believes that arranging such ventures is an appropriate member service for a trade body such as ATSCo to provide.

“I think a trade body is exactly the right vehicle because our focus… is to provide opportunities for trade or information on how to trade profitably and successfully,” she told Recruiter. “That’s why we’ll be doing a number more — probably two a year, one in Europe and one further afield.”

The choices for the coming year are either Germany or the Benelux countries in Europe, and either Brazil or Singapore for the long-haul mission.

As a result of this trip, this group of recruiters understands that neither the pluses nor minuses of running a recruitment business in the Gulf can be underestimated. For example, filling permanent roles is “clearly far more straightforward” than wrestling to fill contract assignments, as David Leyshon, EMEA director for CBSbutler, points out. Simon Churan, MD of IT recruiter Certes, points out one of the definite ‘pros’ is an apparent lack of procurement controls, unlike in the UK.

Over the next few weeks and months, the delegates on this trip will be more closely examining their options for a Middle East presence, and the visit’s ultimate proof of success will be whether or not the right decision was made to pursue, or not pursue, business in these hot economies.

Some delegates, in the healthy spirit of ‘co-opetition’, were even discussing the possibilities of joint ventures with fellow recruiters on the trip who deliver services in non-competing sectors.

One delegate, Capital’s Nick Butcher, has already come face-to-face with one of life’s little ironies on the trip. “I’ve gotten a meeting in Norway out of here,” he laughs. “It would be really funny if what we got was a meeting in Norway.”

Delegates

Simon Bartington, CBSbutler

Daniel Brazier, Progressive

Nick Butcher, Capital International IT Staffing

Melanie Catt, Pathway Resourcing

Simon Churan, Certes

Chris Cole, Hydrogen

Mark Coyle, Roevin

DeeDee Doke, Recruiter

Paul Duley, Darwin Recruitment

Paul Flynn, Eurostaff

Brian Hagan, Aspire Recruitment,

Paul Haslam, Ortus (Five Ten Group)

Richard Herring, Volt Europe

Colin Lapthorn, Osirian Consulting

David Leyshon, CBSbutler

Mitul Modi, MPS Group

Elaine Penketh, McCall International

Ashley Percival-Smith, Aspire Recruitment

Alex Raubitschek, FiveTen Group

Toby Simpson, FiveTen Group

Ann Swain, ATSCo

Adrian Treacy, Arrows Group

Gail Williams, international trade advisor, UKTI

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