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Tech workers reap big salaries amid urgent skill shortage

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Software engineers can earn up to 30 percent more in Dubai than elsewhere
  • Many tech workers left UAE during the pandemic and never returned
  • Government has trained over one million Arabs in programming 

Dubai-based software engineers can earn up to 30 percent more than similar workers in rival tech hubs in Europe, due to an ongoing skills shortage within the sector across the Middle East.

Amanda Line, a partner at global consultancy firm PwC, said that the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region needs to create 300 million new jobs by 2050 in order to achieve its development goals.

But this can only be done by addressing the lack of skills needed for its transformation plans, especially when it comes to basic technology roles.

“Why is upskilling so important? Because we have a skill shortage in this region,” she said.

“Our survey told us that in the UAE 46 percent of our respondents said there is a skill shortage. In Saudi Arabia, 58 percent said there is a skill shortage.

“In the Middle East the need for specialist skills is even greater. That’s everything from your basic Microsoft, right the way through to cryptos, cloud computing and Web 3.”

Line said that the pandemic had highlighted this issue, as the skills deficits were highlighted when employees had to work from home.

Dubai-based Jeron van den Elshout, business director at recruitment firm Hays, said the pandemic saw many trends emerge but one that exacerbated the skill shortage was the fact that once lockdown restrictions ended in the Gulf, many technology employees went back home and never returned.

“There has been a dynamic shift within the tech hiring sector over the last six months,” van den Elshout said.

“During the pandemic, we noticed that contracting and outsourcing was increasing, likely as a result of volatility in the market. 

“While the sector has shifted back towards permanent hiring, tech companies are still hiring contractors, mainly for large scale projects and/or for remote positions because they can’t find the talent locally.”

With a shortage of such skills, those working in the sector are reaping the rewards, according to a survey by global consulting firm Mercer.

It found that software engineers in Dubai with a minimum of three years’ experience earn the third highest salaries in the world, behind Silicon Valley and New York, earning up to 30 percent more than those in similar roles in London, Amsterdam and Berlin.

The report said the difference in salary levels in Dubai “indicates the high demand for tech talent, while reaffirming the emirate’s ambition to attract the top digital talent”.

Vladimir Vrzhovski, workforce mobility leader at Mercer Middle East, said: “The demand for tech talent in particular will continue to grow in the UAE given the nation’s drive to be a global capital of the digital economy.

“Above all, a key incentive for tech talent is the opportunity for a significant uplift in salary when compared to other tech hubs.”

The UAE especially is addressing the shortfall in the sector and in 2017 launched the One Million Arab Coders (OMAC) initiative.

In partnership with education platform Udacity, the government has trained more than one million Arabs from 80 countries to learn programming through five million hours of study and provided 76,000 training workshops. 

The initiative has brought about 100,000 successful graduation projects, granted 1,500 scholarships for outstanding students, and succeeded in making a qualitative leap in the world of digital learning and programming, it was announced last month.

The government programme is timely as UAE Minister of State for Trade Thani Al Zeyoudi on Wednesday announced incentives aimed at attracting 300 digital companies to set up offices in the emirates within the next six to 12 months.

Van den Elshout said this had already begun and, in recent times, Dubai has seen a large number of tech startups established in the market that have been successful in a short period of time. 

“This influx of startups caused a shift in the eco-balance of candidates and jobs in the market,” he said.

“The demand for tech engineers is at its peak and, as such, competition among employers for top talent is high. 

“With a shortage of skills that are pivotal in the tech world, Dubai-based companies are offering more attractive packages to engage the best tech engineers.”

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