Digital Tech market update
Q&A with Tom Turpin, Senior Manager – IT & Digital, Hays

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Based on his 12 years of recruitment experience across the GCC and UK, Tom Turpin, Senior Manager – IT & Digital at Hays, shares his latest observations about the UAE’s digital tech market and associated hiring trends.


1. How does the UAE compare to other regions geographically with regards to its adoption of digital technologies?

From my own experiences, as well as insights from our other global offices, the UAE is operating similarly to where European markets were three to five years ago. For example, the roles I have been recruiting for in the past 12 months are largely the same as those that I was working on in 2013 - 2015 in London and it’s clear that the region had been slower to pick up on digital technologies than in other geographies. That being said, this is not indicative of how the UAE will compare going forward. On the contrary, the region is now setting the pace, in terms of its uptake and approach to technological innovations, which is setting it on the path to become one of the most digitally advanced countries in the world.

Thanks to strong government backing, most notably the Smart Dubai initiative, there exists huge and unprecedented opportunities for businesses operating in the region. Rather than play catch up, new cutting-edge technologies have the potential to assist organisations in leapfrogging ahead of the competition on a global scale. With dedicated strategies for all things digital, from IoT to blockchain, robots to AI applications, hyperloop projects and driverless vehicles to name just a few, the UAE is heavily invested in technology, with all of these already successfully developed and new innovations a prominent focus.

2. Which sectors are the busiest for the hiring of digital technology-related roles?

All sectors, the world over are heavily invested in digital technology and as such all are recruiting for experts within this space. I anticipate this will continue across all industries – in the UAE and globally, but with added momentum. This is reinforced by past research from the IDC which forecasted spending on digital transformation technologies to increase significantly to US$2 trillion by 2020, over double that of its value in 2016. Businesses have undoubtedly recognised digital technology to be a leading factor for success in today’s global market place, without which they cannot compete.

In the UAE, not only is the region’s commitment to technological innovations equipping organisations with the capability that will enable them to successfully compete on a global scale (given that they act swiftly and implement correctly), but digital consumerism marks a huge and relatively unexplored market for business in the region and one which organisations, of all sectors, are realising the need to capitalise on. Demographically, the young and relatively affluent population of the UAE positions it as one of the most inter-connected and tech savvy nations in the world. 'We are social's' 2018 Global Digital Report identifies it as one of the top ranked countries with regards to internet usage, social media usage, mobile subscriptions and digital optimism. Furthermore, according to NewZoo, the level of smartphone penetration (a key metric for e-commerce) is a significant 81%. If organisations can implement technologies efficiently and effectively, business growth opportunities are extraordinary in the region and we expect hiring of digital roles to increase exponentially across all industries.

To date, the UAE’s Finance sector is one that has been realising opportunities (on a global and local scale) and where much hiring activity has been taking place. To take Emirates NBD as one example, in July last year it pledged a dedicated 1bn AED budget for digital transformation projects, which has so far seen it unleash FaceBanking – a new-to-market video call capability for help and guidance with products, as well as the recently announced rollout of ‘Cheque Chain’ blockchain technology capability. This is just one illustration, with many other financial institutions fully committed to digital innovation and putting the UAE on the map with regards to e-commerce in banking globally.

Also incredibly busy is the retail sector in relation to e-commerce. The launch of and Amazon’s purchase of have attracted much media attention and these really pave the way for implementation of digital technologies across a broader spectrum of sectors. From Healthcare to Aviation, Education to Entertainments, we have noticed a significant uplift in the roles being made available to IT professionals with relevant expertise in the digital space.

3. What job roles, skills and expertise are most in demand in relation to Digital Technology in the UAE?

With digital transformation a prominent factor on the agendas of all organisations operating in the region, job titles most in demand relate to largely leadership and technical roles. From a top level, CIO’s / CISO’s, Digital Transformation Directors and Digital Transformation Project / Program Managers, who can manage the complex implementations required of transformations are high in demand. Technically, Data Engineers, Data Scientists, Software Architects, AI Developers, Information Security Analysts and Mobile App Developers to name just a few, are also much sought after.

Extremely important within these is past proven expertise. With its slightly slower adoption of digital technologies compared to other geographical regions, employers in the UAE are now at a distinct advantage whereby they can recruit talented professionals with past experience in implementing digital technologies. As such, high in demand are professionals with like-for-like, international expertise, who hold the relevant educational background and supporting qualifications.

4. What is the availability of talent like in the UAE?

The market is flooded with candidates thanks to the tax-free salaries and high earning potentials of the region however, identifying professionals with the right level of technical expertise and market experience can be challenging, particularly when recruiting for digital technology positions.

As such, competition amongst employers for top talent is high. Many will recruit from outside the region and counteroffers to candidates are becoming common practice. Those professionals high in demand can be very selective as to which roles they accept and turnover of staff is often high as a result.

5. What advice do you have for employers when hiring in the UAE?

Act fast! I have seen recruitment processes, from the initial screening of candidates through to the final job offer, to be incredibly slow compared to other regions and employers will often end up losing the candidate altogether to competition.

Similarly, in order to secure the best talent against other businesses, organisations must offer competitive salaries and attractive relocation packages, should the employee be moving from overseas. Employers will struggle to fill roles if packages do not reflect the market rate and retention in the medium to long term will be incredibly difficult.

I would also strongly advise partnering with a recruiter who knows the market, has established global networks for sourcing relevant candidates, as well as the capability to effectively sieve through the hundreds of job seekers looking for work in the UAE.

From our own business experiences, digital technology is a growing phenomenon within the recruitment space. Through adoption of AI tools, data management systems, machine learning and predictive analytics, Hays are evolving our processes so as to work at a scale that has not been possible before, ensuring we always find the very best candidates for our clients, wherever they are located.