The Middle East: Employment Future and Challenges

10. September, 2013 Career 4 comments

Oil and gas are the world’s most important energy sources. They produce power for our factories and our homes, run our cars, ships, aircraft and railways, and provide us with plastics and other synthetic materials that, in the modern world, we often take for granted.

With demand for oil and gas increasing, and greater care being taken of our natural resources, the oil industry faces a challenging and exciting future – one that is going to test its ingenuity and expertise to the full. The oil industry offers a variety of job opportunities. Many are office based, but some still demand working in difficult conditions.

The oil and gas industry creates widespread impact throughout all sectors of an economy. The economic impact includes direct employment, labor income, and “value add” benefits based on the investments in the sector. These benefits are called multipliers. Indirect impact takes into account the economic activity created through the supply chain serving the oil and gas industry while induced impact is based on household spending. The last element creates additional employment and related economic activity.

In the recent past, Middle Eastern national oil companies (NOCs) have had to compete with other regions of the world for the best available human resources from their partners, the International Oil Companies (IOCs). Until about five years ago, this competition was relatively unsuccessful, as IOCs deployed their best exploration and production talent instead to more technically challenging areas of the world such as the deepwater Gulf of Mexico, Brazil, West Africa, the Caspian and emerging areas of Asia- Pacific. The effect of using this talent elsewhere was that Middle Eastern NOCs were not exposed to the best in class experience in science, engineering and technology that the IOCs had to offer. In the past five years however, things have started to change, as the Middle East re-emerges as a priority investment area for those IOCs attracted by the size, availability and stability of the resources available in the region.

According to Derek Massie, former SVP HR at deepwater drilling company, Seadrill: “Labour supply and demand is not balanced on a global scale. In the Middle East, 86% of workers are imported”.

What can be done to ease the talent shortage in the Middle Eastern energy and utilities sector?

There are a series of measures which, when taken together, can provide solutions for the short-, medium- and longterm. Before an increase in the existing skill base is even contemplated, quick wins can be realized simply by better managing the existing pool of talent within an NOC or NEWC organization or within the industry as a whole. Apart from the benefits which a well thought out and executed organizational redesign can bring, the positive contribution of a professional HR function, fully integrated with the business operating units which it serves, is crucial for developing coherent and proactive talent strategies to enable them to compete in a global resourcing market. A separately identified HR function is relatively unknown to the Middle East, where HR activities are sometimes regarded as part of an overall administrative function, tasked with reactive fire-fighting rather than constructive, preventative action. A professional HR function, empowered by senior management and staffed by well-trained individuals, can address a whole range of issues such as recruitment, training, career progression, remuneration, and retention of an organization’s most valuable assets.

Sponsorship of continuing education, also a key element in staff development and retention, is gradually becoming a core strategy adopted by the NOCs. Last year Saudi Aramco paid for the education of 1,922 graduate and undergraduate Saudi students, including 1,138 in North America, 439 in Europe, and 217 in Saudi Arabia itself. Saudi Aramco also supports a College Preparatory Program that gives Saudi secondary-school graduates the skills they need to succeed in international universities. The company runs the equivalent of community colleges that give thousands of Saudi young people the technical skills they need for employment, and it has other extensive collaborations with Saudi and international higher education institutions. In 2009, Saudi Aramco set up a “university relations” division to manage such partnerships. As far as closing the mid-career skills gap in energy and utilities is concerned, other quick wins can include identifying and fast tracking young employees according to their technical and business development skills, as well as incentivizing the delayed retirement of long-serving employees. In the long term, however, only a sustained program of attracting school students at an early age into science, engineering and technology education and careers, sponsored by the NOCs and IOCs working together, will solve the problem which they helped to create 15 years ago.


1. Deloitte, Midle East Energy and Resources.

2. Energy Zone, Careers in Oil and Gas Industry.

3. Schlumberger, The Gulf Challenges.

About author

Mostafa Zayed

Mostafa Zayed recieved B. Sc in Petroleum Engineering from Cairo University and is currently Ambassador of YoungPetro in Egypt. His Professional interests focus on Petroleum Engineering technologies and related disciplines.

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