The realities of talent in Qatar
As Qatar prepares to host the 2022 World Cup, one of the major challenges for organisations will be attracting and retaining both Qatari and expatriate talent. David Jones and Radhika Punshi of The Talent Enterprise look forward to the prospects of the future talent trends in Qatar and the wider Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) for 2022.
The labour practices which have developed Qatar rapidly over the last decade, will ostensibly not be the same ones that take it to 2022 and beyond. With heightened competition for labour in the region, we can expect Qatar to increasingly become the region’s, and indeed the world’s, laboratory for labour market reform over the next eight years and beyond.
The main focus will be on phasing the recruitment of talent in such a way that it can sustain productivity over the period of preparation for the World Cup and beyond. The risks of hiring the wrong talent, national or expatriate, will increase, as delivery deadlines loom closer. A more strategic workforce planning will be crucial to ensure that organisations are not ramping up talent too soon, or too late.
This will mean innovative approaches to attraction and new talent pools will become increasingly important for local firms. Global labour markets are likely to get tighter over the period leading up to the 2022 World Cup, as the world slowly recovers from the worst recession in a generation and demographic change means that global talent pools gradually become smaller. The IMF recently forecast that by 2020, the world as a whole would have more people over 65 than under 25 for the first time in recorded human history. This will make securing key talent increasingly challenging, especially in preparation for an event that will likely last for just six weeks. Managing and predicting attrition risk will become key in order to ensure expatriates in particular are fully productive during key delivery milestones for Qatar.
Innovation across all aspects of talent deployment will become more prevalent, but particularly so for Qatari workers. The growth in employment opportunities from 2022 will accelerate job creation in the private sector, in many cases in those industries that have not traditionally been attractive to Qatari job seekers.
The visibility of Qataris in the hospitality and transportation sectors will be another key objective of the 2022 World Cup, and the Qatari talent pool will be one of the few anywhere in the world that will actually be growing by 2022. The private sector will have to innovate its employment practices to make themselves more attractive to young Qataris in particular, and young Qataris will have to in turn demonstrate their productive capabilities. If you consider that the median age of a Qatari citizen is 23 years (compared with 46 for the United Kingdom), organisations need to question their approach to talent attraction in particular, and HR management in general, and ask if they are really addressing the key demographic of the future?
Qatar has one of the widest ranging standards of HR anywhere in the world. Some organisations are world class and some are not.
The rise of automation in service delivery and construction will be a critical component as traditional sources of labourers and service staff (Asia – Indian Subcontinent and the Philippines in particular) experience slowing rates of population growth and increasing rates of economic growth. Alternative talent pools, such as other Arab, African and even Latin American workers, will expand over the same period as the only regions in the world with strong demographic growth of working age populations from 2020 to 2050.
Engagement, reward and recognition
In the lead up to the 2022 World Cup, one method of attracting more Qataris into the private sector could be through the introduction of government subsidised earnings for nationals, at least temporarily. While the government has not yet made any statements on the matter, some form of subsidy may become increasingly likely.
Infographic: Talent in the Middle East
With Dubai winning the recent bid to host the 2020 Expo, and other neighbouring countries all embarking on ambitious infrastructure and other developmental plans, the risk of attrition will climb steadily as the 2022 World Cup draws near. Therefore, good HR practice and strong employer brands will grow in importance over the next eight years as the battle for talent increases. Loyalty bonuses, and even possible differential resident status, may become more important for key talent going forward.
The State of Qatar and the GCC as a whole, currently has some of the lowest levels of labour productivity, employee engagement and wellbeing metrics anywhere in the world. A more psychometric and predictive approach to employee engagement will become increasingly important, as firms will be able to understand and encourage successful qualities in qualified staff. A people focused analytics approach will enable smart companies to forecast the periods of greatest attrition risk and seek to take targeted preventive and contingent action.
People practice and policy reform
Qatar today has one of the widest ranging standards of HR professionalism anywhere in the world. Some of the employing organisations are simply world class in terms of their people practices and some are far below global standards, where the ‘HR’ interventions required are human rights in nature, rather than human resources, as reports by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have proven in the recent past. The differential experience of work across Qatar, and indeed our region in general, is reflective of our highly segmented labour markets. Interestingly, hosting the World Cup has already demonstrated several instances of solidarity between those who are amongst the higher echelons of global labour markets with those at the very bottom, already playing out within Qatar itself.
In addition, FIFA and the Professional Football Player’s Association (the top player’s union), have also been putting increasing pressure on the Qatari government to ensure that worker’s rights and employment conditions are protected and extended. Those who work on the construction and infrastructure projects that will need to be implemented as part of the preparation for the 2022 World Cup often suffer from dreadful treatment.
It is refreshing to see that this solidarity, which cuts across some of the widest geographical and compensation boundaries in the world, is increasing the demand for consistent, quality people practices across the region.
Further scrutiny will only continue in the run-up to the event and can serve as a positive means for ethical employers to differentiate themselves from poor practice, and ensure the health and safety of their workers.
The recent Worker’s Charter drawn up by Qatar’s 2022 Supreme Committee that addresses issues such as late payment of wages and illegal fees paid during the recruitment process, is one recent example of how Qatar and indeed the region would need to set forward a clear statement of intent in terms of labour standards.
Education reform will continue apace within Qatar as the government seeks to enhance the employability of the local population, especially in vocational and applied education. Local labour visibility in the development and delivery of the 2022 World Cup will be a top priority. Much of the increase in hiring will come from the private sector, and therefore increasing the attractiveness of private sector employment for Qatari nationals, and vice versa, will continue to be important. 2022 will only seek to accelerate the growth in focus on promoting Qatari employment in the private sector, in particular within transportation, hospitality and construction and infrastructure development, currently all industries where Qataris are under represented.
In the longer term, wage inflation for Qatari nationals will start to moderate, at least in terms of the payment from private sector employers to their Qatari staff. Qatar’s population is projected to triple by 2050 and there will be increasing pressure on government budgets in general and lending in particular, to fund wage subsidies in the private sector as the local population increases. Volunteers and interns from Qatar’s growing student population will augment the limited local talent pool, experience some accelerated career development and support the visibility of local talent during the peak periods of the event in 2022.
Can the peak of economic activity and private sector employment be sustained beyond 2022, or will the World Cup represent a fleeting high watermark for Doha?
The private sector will have to innovate its employment practices to make themselves more attractive to young Qataris.
Our research at The Talent Enterprise into what drives successful Qataris in the private sector today suggests that national pride will be a major motivator for attracting and retaining local talent within the private sector. Moreover, FIFA’s focus on promoting wellbeing and the greater inclusion of women and young people in sport and society in general will also be likely to prove an iconic watershed in Qatar well beyond 2022. By focusing on enhancing psychological strengths in employment practices and adopting more inclusive (and not just diverse) ways of working, the World Cup offers a fantastic opportunity for Qatar to reboot its labour practices.
A bleak alternative
An alternative scenario where some forms of wage subsidies persist in the private sector will have long-term detrimental effects on the employment of Qatari nationals, unless they are substantively and progressively reformed after the World Cup has finished. Like all subsidies, the potential problem with subsidising wages is that it can lead to systemic inefficiencies. Local talent could become increasingly overpaid and undervalued within the private sector over time.
Sustainable, enduring talent development will require a strong foundation of promoting greater employability, productivity and employee engagement amongst the Qatari workforce, both national and expatriate. Currently, all of these factors are amongst the lowest average levels in the world within the GCC.
So far the impact analysis and preparation priorities for 2022 have focused on building the physical infrastructure required for delivery. Building the human capital and physical infrastructure is arguably more important for the long-term development of Qatar. Implementing policies and approaches to talent management to address all of these aspects could be the 2022 World Cup’s greatest legacy for Qatar for the rest of the 21st century.
About the authors: David Jones and Radhika Punshi of The Talent Enterprise are human resource consultants and authors of a recently released book about the talent landscape in the GCC titled Unlocking the Paradox of Plenty.