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Saudi construction workers spoilt for choice

AtkinsRéalis says Saudi Arabia is 'super competitive, particularly from a salary progression perspective' Shutterstock
AtkinsRéalis says Saudi Arabia is 'super competitive, particularly from a salary progression perspective'
  • Workers pick and choose projects
  • Battle to recruit and keep talent
  • ‘A lot of movement’ in region

Saudi Arabia’s trillion-dollar construction industry is providing rich pickings for professionals as companies increasingly struggle to retain talent.

The kingdom has projects worth over $1.3 trillion underway and a further $64 billion in contracts forecast to be awarded this year.

But while that places pressure on companies to recruit the necessary talent, employees are enjoying greater choice.

Philip Hoare, president of global engineering services at AtkinsRéalis, previously known as SNC-Lavalin Group, told AGBI that his company is recruiting around 150 workers every month for its Saudi operations.

On the flip side however, the attrition rate is among the highest.

“While we’re able to attract talent, we also see a lot of movement in the region,” Hoare said.

“While that may be great for individuals, I don’t think that helps with project performance.”

He added that the company’s plans are for the Middle East arm to make up 10 percent of its total worldwide business.

AtkinsRéalis is heavily involved in engineering, design and project management consultancy in Saudi Arabia, working on a range of projects.

These include The Line – a sub-project of the $500 billion Neom mega-city – Al Ula in Medina province, Jeddah Historic District and King Salman Park in Riyadh.

“It’s super competitive across the region, particularly from a salary progression perspective,” Hoare said.

AtkinsRéalis recently held a graduation ceremony for 60 Saudis as part of the company’s bid to meet the Nitaqat system, a Saudisation program aimed at increasing the amount of Saudi nationals working in the private sector.

Saudisation quotas typically go up to 70 percent for the private sector – and as much as 100 percent for certain jobs such as aviation – with adjustment periods tailored to specific companies. 

Hoare said they are also trying to entice Saudi professionals from across the globe back to the kingdom, while recruitment programs were ongoing in Jordan, Egypt, South Africa and Australia.

Research from the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors in London found that 78 percent of survey respondents in Saudi Arabia expected an increase in headcount in the construction sector over the next 12 months. This compared to a global average of 23 percent.

Paula Boast, head of Middle East construction engineering and projects at Charles Russell Speechlys LLP, in Bahrain, said: “Although it’s an attrition rate, the reality is the only real jobs in the Middle East market right now are in Saudi. 

“They might be leaving one entity, but my impression is certainly they’re either going to other projects in Saudi Arabia or they’re looking for other jobs in Saudi Arabia.”