Where has Middle East logistics talent gone?

Nigel Moore explains how we can recruit key personnel to the region.
Nigel Moore, managing director of Logistics Executive, Middle East & Africa
Nigel Moore, managing director of Logistics Executive, Middle East & Africa


Written by Nigel Moore, managing director of Logistics Executive, Middle East & Africa

In our recent global survey, 75 per cent of the respondents said that they are affected by skill shortages in the supply chain sector, with 22 per cent advising that they are affected either highly or critically. The Middle East logistics sector is clearly in the same boat with a clear lack of talent currently available in the region. This situation is exacerbated by a lack of industry training in past years, which has resulted in poor skill levels – something we all come across regularly in our daily lives.

So where are we in regards to attracting and retaining talent in the Middle East logistics sector? Today, most employers are becoming more efficient − doing more with less people – so senior roles are thin on the ground and those advertised are usually related to restructuring, new offices, or strategic hires aimed at growth. This is a good sign in that companies are being careful in planning for the next business cycle, but not so good for job seekers. On the other hand, where companies are growing or investing for the future, they are facing difficulty in finding the right senior people. Why? There are, I believe, a number of reasons for this.

Firstly the “immediate” talent pool has dried up; most good people without jobs have now left the region and are happily settled elsewhere in the world, unlikely to return. Secondly, job security is still of paramount importance, so many employees are reluctant to move if they don’t have to. Thirdly, remuneration packages on offer often aren’t any better than those currently earned – so why would people move? Trading a known for an unknown work situation doesn’t make sense, unless there is a definable benefit for the employee.

Fourthly, talented job seekers are focusing on non-monetary benefits such as employer values, career prospects and future job security, to name a few, and many employers still don’t recognise this. Fifthly, the recession has given a negative perception of the region amongst overseas job seekers. Recent events have worsened this perception, so it’s difficult to attract talent to move to the Middle East from secure roles in home countries. Finally, many employers are unrealistic in their recruitment expectations, such as availability of skills and remuneration. A good example would be the attractive packages now on offer in India as they compete with us for supply chain talent.

I would argue that there are four key areas to address, with regards to ensuring that we have the talent to develop and grow the region’s logistics sector effectively to achieve world class service and efficiency levels. Firstly, we will always need to attract talent from overseas to keep abreast of developments in the international market and ensure world class solutions are offered to our customers. Using specialist search/recruitment agencies with a strong international network is the only way to address this. Plus, firms need to be aware of the remuneration that needs to be offered to attract such people. Unattractive wages will do little to lure the best.

Secondly, firms need to train better from top to bottom and recognise the need to develop the leadership pipeline at all levels in the organisation. It’s no good having an MBA qualified management team, if the rest of the organisation is inept or inefficient. Train and then demand employee performance at all levels. There are many good external training resources available in the region − CILT is one of many with excellent modular logistics courses that are internationally recognised. This includes a unique program developed in partnership with the Department of Economic Development (DED), aimed at enticing Emirati’s into the logistics sector.

Thirdly, implement proper performance based compensation and bonus schemes to motivate staff and reward the best talent. Please ditch the old reward systems where everyone gets a one month bonus per annum regardless of input! Finally, work harder on talent attraction and retention. Task your HR function to support the business objectives in a proactive fashion and properly align talent with ever-changing business needs. The big logistics players in the region are rapidly moving away from the old admin/payroll HR model and now have world class HR managers who are driving huge change in this area.

Reports, academic papers and leading industry figures all regularly highlight that the winners in our business will always be those companies that differentiate themselves through the quality and consistency of their service levels. In our survey, 77 per cent of CEOs highlighted ‘customer satisfaction’ as being a key challenge in the coming year. This can only be achieved by attracting and developing the right talent at all levels.

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