APK is a long-term expatriate in Dubai. Armed with a college degree, he arrived in the UAE in the early 1990s and got a job in under a month. He changed multiple jobs over the last three decades, till he was laid off when the Covid-19 pandemic struck. He has been in and out of temporary jobs ever since. The last one year has been particularly difficult as he has exhausted his savings looking for full-time employment.

Recruitment specialists say that employees like APK failed to recognise how the UAE job market has changed.

According to the 2023 Workforce Hopes and Fears Survey conducted by PwC Middle East, the region is undergoing a “transformational change on multiple fronts”. The study — which featured respondents from Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt and Qatar — said 52 per cent of the individuals surveyed in the region believe their jobs will change significantly in the next five years, requiring them to acquire new skills and capabilities.

Embracing change

Talking to Khaleej Times, Jeron van den Elshout, business director at global recruiting group Hays, highlighted the transformation of the UAE job market over the years.

“There’s an increasing shift towards a knowledge-based economy and specialisation of jobs, driven by efforts to diversify and move away from a reliance on oil. This has been accelerated further with consistent government investment in promising economic sectors such as education, healthcare, tourism, and technology,” he said.

Which sectors are hiring

According to Hays GCC Salary Guide 2023, some of the key sectors in the GCC include technology and banking and financial services.

“The technology sector in the GCC is experiencing skills shortages. Talent shortages are evident in data-related roles where specialised skills are required and qualified professionals are scarce. This means data scientists, data analytics, data engineers, and machine learning professionals are all in high demand,” said Elshout.

He said the rapid rise of digital transformation has seen a growing demand for professionals with expertise in areas such as software development, cybersecurity, data analytics, and cloud solutions.

Keywords matter in your job applications

Job-seekers with poor CVs often encounter challenges in their quest for employment, according to Charbel El Fakhry, a UAE-based HR expert.

Citing recent research, he said job-seekers in the Middle East face an average of 200 applications per advertised position. “This statistic underscores the intense competition individuals face when vying for employment opportunities in the region.”

With artificial intelligence (AI) and automated systems used in the recruitment process, understanding and leveraging these technologies become “crucial” for job-seekers. “By familiarising themselves with advanced algorithms and analytics, candidates can optimise their visibility to automated parsing systems, ensuring they are noticed by recruiters,” said El Fakhry.

He advised candidates to carefully analyse job descriptions and identify keywords and skills sought by recruiters. “By tactically incorporating these elements into their applications, individuals can increase their visibility and improve their chances of being shortlisted for interviews.”

Boost your online presence

According to El Fakhry, building a strong professional online presence is essential for candidates. He recommends leveraging platforms like LinkedIn to engage in relevant communities, expand networks, and increase visibility to recruiters and AI-powered sourcing tools.

“By actively participating in online discussions, showcasing their skills, and demonstrating industry knowledge, job-seekers can enhance their chances of attracting employers' attention,” he added.

Elshout highlighted that social media provides employees a platform to build a personal brand, “which can, in turn, enhance career prospects”.

Why upskilling is important

When asked how experienced job-seekers can compete with young ones, Elshout said experience is also a valuable asset.

“Job-seekers at all levels can compete by leveraging their strengths and demonstrating adaptability and a willingness to learn. However, continuous learning and upskilling are essential in today's dynamic job market and, as such, professionals at all stages of their career should invest time in upskilling and staying up to date with industry trends,” he advised.

In the PwC survey mentioned above, about 61 per cent of respondents in the region said they possess a “distinct understanding” of how their skills are anticipated to evolve.

Randa Bahsoun, partner at PwC Middle East, said: “Our survey highlights that organisations need to recognise the emergence of a new generation in the workforce, Gen Z, which embraces its own characteristics. Organisations need to tailor their structures to create an inclusive workplace environment for all of their professionals, recognising the age diversity in their workforce and adapting as the balance continues to shift towards younger employees, along with their expectations and demands.”

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