June 21, 2021

Impact of COVID19 rules on recruitment in the GCC and Globally

Impact of COVID-19 rules on recruitment in the GCC and Globally

Sarah Malik and Saher Khan

Since the onset of the COVID 19 pandemic, the recruitment landscape has changed dramatically; globally and in the Middle East. This has influenced the recruitment process in some shape or form for almost all businesses. 

Companies have increasingly considered internal talent pools and placed emphasis on hiring internally which decreases employee turnover and is seen as a more cost-effective option than external recruitment. Employers are focused on building teams by offering internal programmes enhancing employees’ skillsets and assisting them with reskilling initiatives instead of hiring externally. This is seen to lead to increased employee engagement and reduced time and costs, as well as helping employee retention. Harvesting internal skills and talents will reap positive results in the long run. However, it may not be the most effective method when a short-term hire is required or a hire for a specific purpose. In such cases, the widest pool of talent is not accessed. 

Recently, many HR Departments have accelerated changes which would have otherwise come years later and HR are now conducting virtual interviews as opposed to in-person interviews. This saves time and costs and adds an additional layer of safety as companies continue to adhere to social distancing rules. Companies are also using virtual interviewing applications and integrating tracking systems for new applicants to continue the recruitment processes efficiently. HR are becoming more focused on the skillset offered by employees and are conducting comprehensive interviews in order to find the perfect fit for their company. Employee on-boarding is also now often virtual. This includes introductions to the team via videoconferencing and virtual tours of the office. In 2020, several companies reduced their numbers of fresh graduate recruits. During the first wave of the pandemic, a vast number of skilled and experienced employees also lost their jobs and were desperate to accept work which could sustain them in the current market. Employers took advantage of this and it has in turn led to a decrease in graduate jobs in the market. There is also uncertainty in respect of the natural graduate growth path which is now making future planning difficult for fresh graduates. For years, the expatriate population have contributed to the economies of the GCC countries. However, during the early months of the pandemic, companies in all sectors were forced to let go of a number of employees, a majority of whom were expatriates. In terms of vacancies, many companies now also prefer to hire expatriates from inside the GCC as this helps the company save on flight and relocation costs of employees, as well as meaning they do not have to factor in potential travel restrictions or quarantine costs. 

GCC countries have also used the pandemic as an opportunity to reduce their dependency on expatriates, increasing participation of nationals in the work force and bringing about a change to their economies. 

Oman has started Omanisation in industries where work may be carried out by Omani nationals. The Government has also proposed recruiting Omani nationals in the health sector; in both technical and executive positions. This has put jobs of expatriates in Oman at risk. 

Saudi Arabia has its Saudisation programme, where there is a requirement that 20% of pharmacists are to be Saudi nationals. The way required proportions of nationals are calculated has recently changed. The Government has also invested in the training of 80,000 Saudi nationals in an attempt to reduce unemployment there. Kuwait has also detailed their plans to radically reduce the expatriate population to 30% and have stopped issuing work permits for expatriates over 60 who are not university graduates. This will affect approximately one million Asians and around 500,000 Egyptians. Almost a third of Kuwait’s population are expatriates. In July 2020, Kuwait’s National Assembly also passed a draft law proposing nationality-based caps. 

In Bahrain the aim is to have 50% of Bahraini nationals form part of the private medical facilities in Bahrain under Bahrainisation. The Bahrain Petroleum Company has also dismissed hundreds of expatriate employees because of the pandemic. 

Meanwhile in the UAE, although there are also Emiratisation measures, unlike other GCC countries the economy is heavily reliant on tourism and the UAE needs the expatriate population and tourists to revive the economy. To encourage this, the UAE Cabinet recently approved a new Remote Work Visa which enables employees whose companies are based in another country to live and work remotely from the UAE. 

Also published by LexisNexis Middle East in the LexisNexis Middle East HR Alert June 2021