18 August 2020

Demographics and diversity

In the MENAT marketplace, professional players vie not only for contracts but for a tight pool of potential recruits. Firms are responding by finding new ways to attract and retain people with critical skills.

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New regulations have created particular demand for skills in areas such as compliance, audit and tax. In the legal sphere, dispute lawyers and those with a corporate and commercial skill set are in demand1. Professional services recruiters are often fishing for these skills in the same pool as their corporate clients.

So-called Saudization and Emiratisation are gathering pace in the private sector, as states invest heavily to grow skills at home and achieve a knowledge-based economy.

Employers seeking to lure good-quality local employees need to stand out: recruiters suggest UAE-based candidates are attracted by compelling brands with strong learning and development initiatives2. Several of the companies featured here have responded with targeted recruitment programmes.

For now, despite a decline in expat numbers, flights to and from Riyadh and Jeddah are still packed with consultants bringing expertise from overseas.

Other features of the region are changing fast, including the embrace of programmes to promote diversity and sustainability. Clients expect their consultancy partners to take a lead in these areas.

“Each country is making a massive investment to upskill local talent, but the demographics mean there’s always going to be a reliance to some degree on expats. And expats are now coming with a long-term rather than a contractual view. They see the scale and scope of opportunity in the region – the fly in, fly out professional services consultant is a thing of the past.” – Matthew Lewis, Boyden

“We are facing the expectation that we will employ local people in the Middle East to do the work that clients want. The challenge is finding those good quality local lawyers. We look to recruit laterally, finding experienced and relatively senior people who can add to the business. And we spend a lot of time training people from the ground up, then making sure we can reward them with rich opportunities and good renumeration so they stick around.” – Mark Blanksby, Clyde & Co

“What a lot of people are doing to resolve the human capital challenge is building an ecosystem of partnerships. Rather than having to build a capability, you can partner with somebody who has expertise and run alongside them. That’s especially important in soft skills and technology. Smaller partner organisations are just as fast at delivery as internal talent would be.” – Gerard Rahman, BDO

“Access to talent isn’t so much an issue in countries like the UAE, where there are 200 nationalities. Our regional model really works because we have over 50 nationalities within the firm and we work across borders within the region. We have our own training centre to develop people, which helps with retention. We’re also investing in a programme to attract young talent from universities, with a view to building a talent pool to support the succession plan across all our services.” – Samer Qudah, Al Tamimi

“As well as tackling the digital agenda, businesses in MENAT would do well to commit to real diversity and sustainability. I’d say they will achieve this by getting the right people on their boards. People who have the ability to challenge group-think.” – Michael Armstrong, ICAEW

“Most governments are very conscious of the need to embrace diversity. In purely gender terms, there are far more sustainable opportunities for women in professional services – we have more female lawyers here than male at associate level, which is something we’re proud of. A lot more can be done on diversity, but that will require a number of cultural barriers to be circumvented.” – Sachin Kerur, Reed Smith

“I think the big transformation here is about developing more talent from within the region. We stepped up our graduate programme about 4 years ago and now we recruit around 400 graduates every year in the Middle East, 80% of whom are Arab speaking. We try to make sure around 50% of those graduates are female, another big transformation for the region, and an increasingly large proportion are GCC nationals.” – Stephen Anderson, PwC

Professional services

HSBC is proud to be supporting the sector on its exciting growth trajectory

Transformation under way

MENAT has leap-frogged western economies in many technologies, such as 5G. And successful adoption of digital advances will underpin achievement of the goals in the visionary transformation programmes of Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Growth drivers and predictions

The next few years will see MENAT-based consultancies push into new territories, while boosting their policymaking influence.

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