Brooke Cowling | Co-founder & COO, Digital of Things
Having punched above its weight to emerge as the region’s tourism and financial hub, Dubai aims to diversify its economy further and establish itself as the GCC’s center for innovation. With LinkedIn and local recruiter research showing the best job opportunities are now in the digital sector, things look to be working. But as green shoots of growth emerge, can talent be accessed fast enough to sustain it?
The U.A.E. is rife with opportunities. Naturally, you’d want to seize these opportunities quickly by recruiting local professionals with local know-how. But this is easier said than done.
Employers often face challenges when trying to recruit digital professionals locally. In general, the local skillset lags behind more developed markets. This is, however, to be expected in a young, emerging market. Another more frustrating issue is that suitable local candidates often price themselves out of the market with unrealistic salary expectations. These are likely only growing pains for Dubai’s digital sector, but the sooner they are fixed, the faster growth will happen.
Tackling the digital skills gap requires better access to world-class training locally. It’s no coincidence that the most innovative countries are the ones with excellent computer science education. More internationally- credible training institutions that offer local talent qualifications that benchmark against overseas peers are needed in the region.
Getting local talent to be more realistic about career and salary expectations may take a bit of time. This is where the U.A.E. has been a victim of its own success. A sudden spike in job opportunities saw people hired into positions they weren’t fully qualified for, leading them to overestimate their value.
Local professionals need to remember they are in direct competition with overseas candidates from more mature and skilled markets. Even with repatriation costs, overseas candidates are typically cheaper to hire and usually more skilled.
Dubai is at a critical point in achieving its digital ambitions, where access to talent will be key. The country is in the early stages of growth, with an abundance of opportunities and high-paying jobs. The government has done a great job championing innovation and providing exciting greenfield projects to work on. The introduction of 5G will also drive demand for better digital services. This is an attractive place for digital talent to thrive.
A strong local talent pool is the foundation of a mature and sustainable digital economy. Home to over 200 nationalities, the U.A.E. market is very unique and local know-how is invaluable. A local candidate can hit the ground running, where an overseas hire may take time to adjust to new market dynamics and cultural nuances.
Attracting overseas talent to Dubai has never been a problem but as the digital sector takes off, there needs to be a greater balance of skilled professionals with local market experience and most importantly — realistic salary expectations.
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Brooke Cowling is Co-founder and COO of Digital of Things, the region’s only User Experience (UX) lab, helping companies measure people’s emotional responses to using their online services.