Talent Management in the GCC

Having lived through the era when HR was still personnel, a minor division of the accounts department, and seen the huge changes in technology and attitudes in HR since the 70’s, I find myself struggling with the realities of Talent Management in the Middle East.

Let me say that I am huge fan of personal development and as a former business owner I always take delight in seeing people grow within my organization and take more responsibility, develop better skills and the rest.

So what is Talent in the GCC? You need to clearly define this in an organization before you can go running off to find some, then develop it.

Here are some examples of talent with which I have personally been involved.

  1. A Grader Driver. If you are a contractor building a highway, you want this talent staying with you, as the work he does cannot be automated, it is a unique skill of eye-to-hand-and-foot co-ordination. Take a look in a grader cab if you doubt this, it’s full of levers, knobs, pedals and buttons. A good grader man will make the company money, a poor one will hasten a loss.
  1. A CNC Machine Tool Operator. This skill takes even more training and time to develop than being a grader driver. If an engineering company employs a talented machine operator, their clients will keep coming for more work to be done until the company has to have a whole team to keep up with demand. These pieces of kit can cost upwards from USD 1M.
  1. A Sales Trainee. How often have you heard (not from HR!) “I don’t understand why the sales team have such high commissions? I don’t get any commission as a logistics officer!” Here’s a different talent. This one is 100% brain-based. If a company does not sell its products or services, it dies. Full stop. So your sales force is your golden talent for surviving recessions and maximizing profitability in the good times. Can a sales person improve with training? Maybe not as a sales professional, but if you can tempt them to climb the slippery slope of management, then definitely – it is NOT guaranteed that a top salesman will make a top manager!
  1. A driver in Saudi Arabia. He was a Saudi National with a wife and four children at the age of 23. His gross monthly salary was SAR 5,700 per month. He spoke almost no English. But he had talent. A great smile and a winning personality. So his employer invested, first in English Language training, then in office skills, then in HR skills. He’s now a competent, nearly bi-lingual HR manager in Riyadh.

I have not touched on the topic of Emiratisation, Omanisation and other national programmes as I sometimes think there are more experts in this field already than there are nationals – especially in Qatar.

Suffice it to say that it is self-evident that all GCC nationals should be encouraged to take responsibility for their own development and seek employers that will help them build their skills – which will help them build their nations.

So sticking with talent management, it seems to me that talent in the GCC could be defined as the ability (or potential ability) to perform a task or function for an organization in such a way that it produces measurable results for the company.

If you consider the above four examples, they have this in common:

  • All their salaries were between AED 3000 to 6000 per month, yet the responsibilities they had and their impact on their employer’s wellbeing was significant.
  • None of them were graduates or MBA qualified.
  • They were all talented.

When I hear the phrase Talent Management I tend to immediately think of the well-educated, well qualified, multilingual bright young leaders of tomorrow, but I would encourage any leaders of today to also look at their teams from top to bottom. Are you spending a fortune trying to find and hire talent for your business when you may have stacks of it already in house?

What does your Talent Management world look like?


Pat Luby is Managing Partner of Pat Luby Consulting, a HR Software consultancy which designs, develops, trains and delivers online HR-related solutions. He is ex-regional Managing Director of Manpower Middle East and has worked as a HR professional in industries including IT, Telecoms and Engineering.

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