Friday, March 02, 2007

Recruitment firms in Lebanon report surge in brain drain

Recruitment firms in Lebanon report surge in brain drain
By Lysandra Ohrstrom
Daily Star staff

BEIRUT: Demand for managerial positions in the Gulf has sky-rocketed since the mass exodus of Lebanon's skilled workforce began due to last summer's war, driving down salaries in some of the most popular destinations. Three of Lebanon's largest executive recruitment agencies reported a dramatic increase in CV submissions from Lebanese candidates seeking employment in less volatile countries in the region in 2006. Though the migration of Lebanon's white-collar work-force is not a new phenomenon, increased economic prospects are no longer the driving force behind the brain drain. The combination of lower salaries and higher costs of living in appealing locations like Dubai, Qatar and Bahrain means many Lebanese are no longer leaving solely to save, said Yasser Akkaoui, the owner of Prime Job. "Before people would go to the Gulf as a last resort, to make more money. They said 'ok we are going to sacrifice five years of our life away from our families,' but now we see a totally different trend," he explained to The Daily Star. Salaries in Dubai, Qatar and Bahrain have shrunk while the cost of living has gone up, said Akkaoui, meaning only Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are cheap enough to allow people to save. "Five years ago a Lebanese architect worth $5,000 would not go to Dubai for less than that and he would require two business class tickets home per year, decent accommodation and medical insurance. Today this same person would leave for $3,500, wouldn't care if he had a roommate, and would accept economy class tickets," he said.

Prime Job had compiled a database of 30,000 CV's from senior and mid-level management from 1994 through 2005. In the last six months of 2006 the firm had 7,500 new Lebanese applicants - most of whom were still employed in the country - but scouting the Gulf for work. Despite the abundant supply of human capital in GCC countries, the Lebanese are still appealing hires. Qatar recently quadrupled its quota for skilled workers of all nationalities, moving the ceiling for Lebanese from 40,000 to nearly 200,000. "We almost have the sense that the rulers of the UAE have encouraged companies to hire Lebanese since the war, almost to give us preferential treatment," Akkaoui said.

Sabbah al-Haj, the Chairman of Management Plus, said the Lebanese brain drain began accelerating after former Premier Rafik Hariri's assassination, when a number of local companies stopped recruiting. Since then he has noted a near constant flow of college graduates out of Lebanon, and estimates that 40 percent of the country's skilled workforce has left the country over the past two to three years. "The war came at a late phase of the migration process. It only expedited it," Haj said. "The number of CV's we receive stayed the same throughout 2006, but we noticed that the profile of candidates changed after the war. We have candidates who are 40 and 50 years old who never would have considered leaving Lebanon before, and are now looking for work in the Gulf," he said. Management Plus receives up to 250 CV's per day, five percent of which are ultimately hired. When the company was established in 1995, 80 percent of its placements were in Lebanon, compared with as little as 20 percent now. Few local firms have recruited in 2006, said Haj - save for consumer goods companies - and Management Plus has witnessed an influx of candidates formerly employed in the hospitality sector. Unemployment rates vary according the category of workers - around 30 to 40 percent for social science graduates and 50-60 percent for mono-lingual graduates regardless of discipline, said Haj. American University of Beirut degree holders are appealing hires in the Gulf regardless of discipline, and depending on the concentration, there is also sustained demand from GCC companies for graduates of St. Joseph University, Lebanese American University, and Hagazian University. Lebanese senior management in the fields of marketing, advertising, public relations - and lately human resource management and engineering - are ripe for recruitment, but certain fields are less competitive. There is an oversupply of lawyers in most markets, so Haj discourages them from submitting CV's to Management Plus. He has also had difficulty placing employees in the IT sector. Meanwhile Lebanese in the overcrowded field of finance now command a salary 15-20 percent lower in the Gulf than before the war, reckoned Haj.

Marc Chamichian, Senior Consult at JC Conseil, said Lebanese have migrated away from newly expensive and competitive destinations over the past two years. The number of CV submissions his company receives daily has increased from 50 to 80 since the war, and most of them do not want to go to Dubai. "Dubai has a reputation of too much work and too much pressure. You make good money but you spend it. "In Qatar you may get great salary because it's booming, but there is no social life. ... And Saudi Arabia is popular with families, but single people don't like it there," he explained.

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