K Viswanath, Regional Director – Middle East, Brunel
Brunel’s regional director for the Middle East discusses the recruitment situation in Qatar and the region today; what is bringing people in and what is keeping them away.
What potential do you see in the Middle East region for Brunel today?
I see a huge potential for the oil and gas industry in the Middle East region, and Qatar particularly, despite the fact that there is still a level of uncertainty regarding when the moratorium on new projects at the North field will be lifted – estimates and best guesses range from 2015 all the way to 2017.
Brunel is doing well in Qatar: we currently have ongoing projects with major operating companies (including a newly signed five-year contract). The lifting of the moratorium will only service to increase our business here, which has been growing rapidly since we established ourselves in the country. For the initial few years, we grew at almost 100 percent year-on-year; in recent years, we have been growing at a consistent rate of between 25 and 30 percent. In 2013, we won our biggest contract yet, worth QAR 100 million (USD 27.47 million), for contract staffing.
In line with Brunel’s global vision, which aims to double the size of the business in the next three to four years, our regional vision for the Middle East is to add support by growing our business to EUR 150 million (USD 202.94 million) by the end of 2017. Qatar will be a big part of this overall plan – we see a lot of potential here.
Brunel offers recruitment services, but also consultancy and project management as part of its global offering. Which are your most demanded services in the Middle East?
In the Middle East Brunel is predominantly focused on contract staffing and the secondment of professionals, and we divide our business into two categories: what we call the energy side is high-end consultants from across the value chain, who are usually expats working at senior levels. We also do some bulk staffing work here for construction and maintenance operations, which involve bringing in resources in batches and supporting our clients in ramping up their workforce demands.
Although there is a lot of demand to bring new people into Qatar at the moment, we also have to deal with attrition caused by project management contracts (PMCs) ending and projects moving to the operations and maintenance phase, which require significantly fewer human resources. When this happens, consultants involved in the PMC phase move on to new projects.
How do the particularities of the Qatari system impact your business here?
The Middle Eastern operators are big users of the L-1 (lowest bidder wins) tender system, which makes the tendering process very competitive, with a steep learning curve when it comes to requirements and pricing.
As an organization, the lifecycle of projects is part of our everyday business, and we try to build this as much as possible into our processes. Because of the nature of Qatar’s oil and gas sector, many projects might start in Qatar, shift to somewhere like South Korea for a few months, then finish off back in Qatar. Our database is geared for this, and at the pre-hiring stage, we discuss with potential candidates their country preferences and flexibility. Everyone is different, but our database system allows us to immediately find the people that are able to work on projects here. This system is at the heart of our business today.
Qatar is a very difficult market in terms of non-exclusivity, which means that on most projects or tenders, small companies are cutting into our business. However, since the market has welcomed some new smaller entries in the last 12-18 months, clients have realized that price alone is not always the best selection criteria for their project. With the right number and quality of contractors being such an important part of the project’s success, it pays to also weigh the experience and reputation of the supplier.
Is the Middle East attractive compared to other oil and gas destinations around the world for candidates?
Location is generally the biggest factor for candidates deciding whether or not to take on a project. Most are happy in the Middle East in general, but in certain countries in the region, fluctuating security levels can be a negative factor. However, the tax-free environment of the region is appealing to contractors and is weighed favorably against other less attractive aspects of the region.
In general, Qatar is a good market to attract talent. It is, however, much easier to attract single consultants than those with families, as the education system in Doha leaves much to be desired.
When you encounter problems like the security situation or poor schools, how does Brunel work to make the offer more attractive for consultants?
We make sure that potential candidates are as well informed about the country as possible, through information packs, and going the extra step for families by finding out as much as possible about the school situation in a country and providing them with all the data they ask for. In Doha, for example, the problem is trying to get admission into the better schools, which we cannot guarantee, although we will do everything in our power to help with the process. This is a real challenge for us: no matter how good a project might look on a CV, these issues really matter for senior positions, where engineers tend to already be well-established in their fields.
Given the ongoing moratorium on new projects in Qatar, how do you plan ahead to grow your business?
The recruitment market in Qatar has evolved completely since 2004, moving from just a few players to a large field of both domestic and international recruitment consultancies. However, we look for every single opportunity in the market, with every client, and new tenders are released every few months so we make sure we fully investigate all of them to see how many we can bid for. Clients appreciate Brunel for its high quality recruitment and operational excellence. They know they can rely on a compliant company with a sustainable balance sheet.
We reach out to existing customers and new customers through tenders: thanks to these new market dynamics, you can no longer just go and talk to a company and gain new business. However, Our long presence and good reputation give Brunel a leg-up in acquiring new business, and in the tender process. Brunel has an excellent name for providing a wide range of services in the region, from recruitment to contracting services as well as commissioning, shut down and even operations & maintenance services. This combination is both powerful and unique and will allow us to further develop both in the oil and gas industry as well as its associated industries.
What will drive your future growth in Qatar?
Brunel is extremely positive about its prospects in Qatar, not least due to the MSA contract the company was recently awarded, which will involve hiring many more senior consultants in the next five years. We are also eagerly awaiting the end of the moratorium, whilst in the interim, the impact of continued smaller-scale upstream activity and opportunities with infrastructure projects outside of the oil and gas sector, will ensure continued growth.