From the UAE to Saudi Arabia: What are the most in-demand jobs in the Gulf?

This year has started well for job growth in the Gulf region.

Saudi Arabia and Dubai are leading the way, and the first quarter has shown an 18% rise in the number of available positions, according to a report by recruitment agency Robert Walters. Not only is this a sizable increase, but it goes against the overall global trend. In fact, a report by Hays noted that in our region, ‘85% of employers plan to recruit permanent employees in 2023.’

Much of this can be put down to the region’s economic stability, which has led to continued investment – something which has not been the case in many other countries.

When we drill down into which sectors offer the most opportunities, it’s not surprising that technology features either at or very near the top of most lists. Given that tech jobs are found in almost every industry imaginable – from healthcare to marketing – there is clearly a great need for workers with these talents in the GCC.

So, whether it’s business owners, investors, or jobseekers, let’s break down the different industries in the Gulf to see where the highest number of opportunities lie.

Job opportunities in technology

The US tech industry has taken a few knocks recently. There have been sizable layoffs at tech firms large and small, as well as the collapse of the Silicon Valley Bank. This has understandably had a knock-on effect in all corners of the world.

Well, almost all corners. While not immune to these shockwaves, the Gulf remains remarkably robust when it comes to technology jobs. Much of this can be attributed to greater investment in new projects linked to Vision 2030 in Saudi Arabia along with the Dubai 2040 Urban Master Plan and the ‘We The UAE 2031’ initiative. These major country-wide programmes are helping to drive a wealth of opportunities, with tech playing a pivotal role in the region’s march towards modernisation and sustainability – whether that’s re-imagining what a city could be, or looking for alternate revenue streams outside of oil.

In fact, the Robert Walters report notes that the ‘demand for IT project management professionals has increased by over 60% across the Middle East.’ The same report showed that 9% of those IT positions were in software development. This chimes with data from LinkedIn stating that the most in-demand tech jobs in UAE and Saudi Arabia are indeed in software development – along with cybersecurity and data analysis.

As mentioned, tech touches almost every sector, not least healthcare. According to McKinsey, the digital health market in Saudi Arabia and the UAE will reach USD 4bn by 2026. Since these countries already boast some of the highest smartphone penetration in the world, with consumers comfortable using various digital services, it makes sense that they will be at the forefront of digital healthcare and require skilled workers who can contribute to these projects.

Whether you’re an entrepreneur looking to get your startup off the ground, a jobseeker hoping to work in the Gulf’s tech sector, or an investor seeking opportunities, the breadth of the region’s tech sector offers many opportunities.

Filling the gaps in healthcare recruiting

Since we’re on the topic of healthcare, figures from the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry state that healthcare spending will rise to 4.6% of GDP by 2026. Meanwhile, Alpen Capital reports that healthcare expenditure in the GCC region will reach USD 135.5bn in 2027.

Coupled with this growth is the well-recognised shortage of both doctors and nurses globally – a problem that is felt acutely in the Gulf. According to British Centres for Business, in the UAE 82% of doctors and 96% of nurses are expats. To attract and retain more healthcare professionals, the UAE has reformed some of its immigration laws – including the so-called golden visa system – as well as leveraging the medical training at many of the country’s universities, including the UAE branches of many British and other foreign institutions. Meanwhile, in Saudi Arabia, the Health Sector Transformation Program forms a key part of Vision 2030, with the urgent need to recruit more doctors and nurses to meet the growing demand.

Increasing vacancies in banking and financial services

The Robert Walters report showed a 54% increase in job vacancies in banking and finance compared to the same period last year. Meanwhile, according to Hays, employees in this sector received the highest rate of salary increase in any sector last year.

With banking one of the key pillars of the Gulf’s plan for life after oil, many financial institutions in the region have made key acquisitions both locally and internationally. A group including Qatar and Saudi Arabia now owns 25% of the stock of Credit Suisse; Qatar has taken over Société Générale’s Egyptian business; and the headline-grabbing attempt by First Abu Dhabi Bank to acquire the massive UK-based Standard Chartered all seem like just the start of major moves by the region’s banking sector. While the Standard Chartered deal didn’t go through, it demonstrates just how assertive GCC banking has become regarding potential takeovers.

Bringing the topic back to tech, the GCC has also positioned itself as a key location for fintech. There has also been a cultural change – where once fintech was seen as a competitor to traditional banking, since the COVID-19 pandemic it has come to be regarded as central to banking’s future. One example of this is a group of traditional institutions, including banks and development agencies, who have collaborated on Wio – an integrated financial platform that delivers digital banking.

The demands for sales and marketing professionals

Sales and marketing remains an in-demand sector in the UAE and Saudi Arabia. With digital marketing now a must-have for all businesses, the opportunities for jobseekers are considerable. It’s worth noting that in Saudi Arabia, for example, the majority of B2C advertising is done through social media to a degree that is not yet common in the West. This means there are opportunities not only in the traditional route of finding a job at a marketing agency, but also for the entrepreneur who understands influencing, perhaps through building their own brand, and now wants to bring those skills to the GCC.

The need for talented expats

Bringing in global talent is a key priority for the UAE and Saudi Arabia, and the wider GCC. With this requirement comes a need for the professionals in place to attract, recruit, and retain the best talent. So as a final point, human resources professionals are increasingly needed in the region. In short, they are the link between the requirements of the country and the person who might fit the bill.

Both the UAE and Saudi Arabia are taking bold initiatives to make their countries even more appealing for foreign workers, whether that’s relaxing visa requirements, creating more attractive compensation packages, or Saudi Arabia following Dubai’s example by creating its own free zone policy. All of which comes together to create a region that continues to grow at an incredible rate and requires talented professionals across numerous sectors.

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