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Spread of stability spells a positive future for telecoms professionals in the Middle East into 2012

Throughout 2011 the societal and political unrest in many Arab countries, termed the Arab Spring, fundamentally changed the progress and pace at which telecommunications infrastructure has, and will continue to be, developed in these countries...

 Throughout 2011 the societal and political unrest in many Arab countries, termed the Arab Spring, fundamentally changed the progress and pace at which telecommunications infrastructure has, and will continue to be, developed in these countries.

The speed of roll out of advanced technology in Arab countries previously exceeded that seen elsewhere in the world, as wealthy governments were able to take advantage of the years of learning undergone in Europe and North America. Rather than having to update overloaded systems – as western countries have had to do – Arab nations have been able to start from scratch, rolling out the latest technology to connect the furthest corners of their country to a central network.

However, progress slowed considerably in 2011 as months of political uncertainty and fluctuating levels of violence plagued many Arab countries. The working environment was perceived as unsafe for contractors; particularly in Syria and Libya where expatriate technical experts were evacuated and recruitment freezes were put in place by some multinational employers until the close of 2011.

The landscape of telecommunication development in these countries is now significantly altered. However, in many areas we are seeing a return to growth. After a full recruitment freeze for telecoms professionals in Bahrain earlier in the year, the political situation has settled down and prospects for the progression of vital projects are now looking more buoyant.

In Saudi Arabia, a number of deals have been made resulting in a requirement for contractors. There is persistently high demand for all functional roles from specific operators in Dubai, while the 2G and 3G rollout in Iran is creating demand across a multitude of disciplines. In the United Arab Emirates the advanced 4G/ LTE rollout is also creating demand; an area that most hiring managers in our latest research considered having the greatest impact on the telecoms landscape globally during 2012.

During the traditional festivals of Eid and Ramadan, many operators also looked for increased numbers of temporary telecoms professionals to work on their network. This was particularly the case in Saudi Arabia, where large numbers of pilgrims visiting Mecca served to increase pressure on the network for a short time. Across the Middle East, local workers habitually take the holy month of Ramadan as leave, which also increased demand for temporary contracts by employers.

While this positive picture emerged in many countries, a number of countries continued to face considerable challenges, Yemen in particular. Contractors were evacuated from Yemen, and a complete recruitment freeze for the foreseeable future was instigated towards the end of this year.

Similarly in Syria, we have witnessed employers instigating recruitment freezes that are unlikely to be lifted in the short term. Following the seizing of a number of contractors by the Syrian police forces all non essential personnel were removed from projects.

The outlook for the future is therefore mixed across the Middle East, although the prospects are already more positive than just a few months ago. In our recent survey of hiring managers, almost half (48.5%) reported that their organisations are planning more projects in 2012-13 than they did in 2011 and the Middle East ranked seventh in their list of World hot spots.

Various projects in certain countries across the Middle East are boosting demand for specific specialists and we predict the broad range of operators will soon follow suite, resurrecting projects which will heighten demand for telecoms professionals in all roles. However, as we enter 2012 the war for talent will also continue to grow with contractors and permanent employees vying for the opportunity to work on the latest technology around the World. And in areas such as the Middle East, where societal and political unrest is still acute, it will become ever more important for employers and recruitment consultancies to ensure that this talent pool and flexible workforce remains safe.

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