Opinion: How we can attract and retain talent within the UAE’s construction market

Date: 15 Jan 2020

Anouar Bourakkadi Idrissi, COO, Edenred UAE on the construction industry’s challenge of staff retention

Workforce development and retention is important for any business, but in construction, an industry where four workers are leaving for every one that joins, it is important to keep your staff motivated. There is general agreement that a happy worker is more productive than an unhappy one. In today’s competitive environment, keeping the workforce engaged in any industry is essential for businesses to sustain growth. This applies to the construction industry as well, where a productive workforce can directly influence the timeline and delivery of a construction or real-estate project.

Working onsite can be exhausting and sometimes even daunting. One of the most common challenges faced by this industry is high employee turnover. A recent study by McKinsey indicates that attracting and retaining the best people will be one of the key drivers for business growth in 2020. Moreover, attracting and retaining the best employees always high up on the agenda item within the UAE’s construction companies. Edenred explores four productive options that employers can adopt to attract and retain talent in this industry:

Option 1 Offer recreational activities and 24-hour connectivity

Under the UAE National Programme for happiness and positivity, Ministry of Human Resources & Emiratisation (MoHRE) launched a series of initiatives to support labour happiness. These initiatives include Happiest Work Environment, Best Labour Accommodation, Happiest Bus and Happiness SIM. It also provides recommendations to deliver the best recreational amenities for them.

The Middle East has traditionally had a large proportion of expatriates from Asia and Europe, in addition to its current local workforce. According to YaleGlobal online report, approximately 13 million foreigners make up about 70 per cent of the workforce in six member countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) alone. With a majority of the UAE’s labour force originating from developing countries, it is important for workers to stay in touch with their families as well as have an easy option to transfer money back home. By embracing new technologies and offering new recreational activities, construction companies can, not only make themselves future-ready, but can also meet the talent challenge. Increased automation, off-site prefabrication, new collaboration tools – are only a few examples that will help to enhance productivity. Providing a secure Wi-Fi connection, access to supermarkets in close proximity to accommodations, organising a space for indoor games or dedicated place to rest are another small initiatives that could boost employee morale while making a difference in their lifestyle.

Option 2 Provide adequate health facilities for all employees

The construction industry is designated as a priority industry for work health and safety due to the high number of work-related injuries and illnesses and inherent risks associated with working in this industry. The UAE law requires that all employers provide proper health facilities to ensure the well-being of its employees. Regulations have also made it mandatory for the industry to follow the strict protocol and measures on construction sites to ensure the safety of its workers. Construction companies that provide well-maintained and appropriate tools to ensure the safety of its workers often experience a significant rise in the output. It also eases the pressure from workers and keeps them motivated.

The use of effective workplace programs and policies can reduce health risks and improve the quality of life for people working in the construction industry.  Maintaining a healthier workforce can lower direct costs, such as insurance premiums and worker’s compensation claims. It will also positively impact many indirect costs such as absenteeism and worker productivity.

Construction businesses can create a wellness culture that is employee-centred and where safety is a priority as well as provides access and opportunities for their staff to engage in a variety of workplace health programs.

Option 3 – Upskilling and provide regular training

When a company invest in training programmes for their staff, employees recognise that the organisation is committed to making them successful. It also illustrates commitment to a safe workplace.

With the advancement in technology, more and more industries are embracing the use of automation. This has been widely considered a potential threat to the jobs of unskilled workers. A recent study by OECD shows that approximately 50% of construction jobs, for example, are at risk by automation. However, the study also identifies some ‘engineering bottlenecks’ to automation in the industry. As we know, the construction sector is not as easy to automate as manufacturing.[2]  Investing in staff training shows employees that they are valued and creates a supportive workplace. Employees who feel appreciated and challenged through training opportunities may feel more satisfied with their jobs.

The unique nature of the industry needs a combination of power, skill and human input on a daily basis. This is why businesses need to retain staff to ensure continuous seamless operations. By upskilling staff, construction companies can utilise the latest tools and technologies to not only increase efficiency but staff motivation as well.

Option 4 – Providing financial assistance where required

Approximately 60% of the working population in the UAE sits outside the current financial system. This means that there is a large number of working specialists that do not have access to bank accounts, credit cards or loan options that others may have. In this case the transfer of salaries is simply not enough. Like every employee, labourers are also eager to manage their spending and savings with the right technology and apps enjoying the convenience of online banking with no or minimum fees that allow them to dream big and be prepared for important milestones in their lives like marriage, education or purchase of a property.

Over a sample of 100,000 workers surveyed in construction, more than 81% of them withdrew at least 90% of their wages at once, due to a lack of proper financial tools or knowledge[3]. Moreover, the survey indicated that almost 80% of their wages was transferred to their family back home with sometimes high fees. The total amount of remittances from the UAE reached Dh80.96 billion in the first half of 2019.

As per the UAE employment law, wages cannot be paid in cash, providing an opportunity for companies to offer their employees with the right tools to help manage their cash flow.

Employees with wages below AED 3,000 usually do not have access to loans or salary advances. When every dirham counts, workers are keen to save and avoid unnecessary fees and where possible track revenue and expenses. With the introduction of digital solutions such as the C3 online portal or MyC3card mobile application, employers can conveniently process wages through corporate tools. These types of financial solutions empower businesses with convenient, technology-driven services and benefits, making it easy for their employees to take control of their finances. The opportunity to manage finances, send money home securely and swiftly, receive salary advances and even engage in savings all through a mobile phone application helps companies financially empower workers.

There is no doubt that monetary benefits are a motivational force for any worker. It might not be easy for many companies to increase the wages, however, by offering a comprehensive employee package could be the next best alternative.

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