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Coronavirus Crisis Prompts Many in Gulf Countries to Change Professions

Many people living in the countries of the Gulf Cooperative Council (GCC) have changed professions as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. And this comes on the backdrop of salaries that overall have slumped by nearly a quarter, according to a recent study by the recruitment firm GulfTalent.

The number of interviews employers solicited dropped by as much as half in certain fields, such as education, between March and November 2020, compared to the same time period last year. The study was based on 350,000 interview offers from workplaces that were hiring, and over six million job applications submitted by those seeking employment. The employers were based in all the GCC countries, but concentrated in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, according to a GulfTalent analyst involved in the research.

The study showed that most employment sectors have been hiring fewer people this year, with educators and cooking professionals receiving the fewest interview offers.

Employers are being asked to make expensive, long-term hiring decisions when the short-term outlook is still full of variables. This is a very challenging task, and many employers will delay major decisions as long as possible

The job fields with the fewest employment offers were school teachers, as well as those working in the hotel and airline industry. While these results are not particularly shocking, what did surprise the GulfTalent analyst at first was that the latter two groups were given more interviews.

“One initially surprising finding was that more aviation and hospitality candidates received job interviews in 2020 than in the previous year. Given that these sectors were massively hit by the pandemic, we had expected the opposite,” he told The Media Line. “However, on further analysis of the data, it became clear that more of these professionals are being interviewed because a lot more of them than before are active job seekers.”

“On balance, the increase in job seekers from these sectors far outweighed the increase in interviews received, meaning that the average number of interviews per active job seeker was down substantially for this segment compared to the previous year,” he added.

Job interviews for health care workers went up by almost 20%, while interviews in fields involved in internet retail grew a little over 10%.

“With Gulf labor markets being squeezed, there will be an oversupply of talent in some instances and a lack of qualified candidates in other instances,” Robert Mogielnicki, a resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, told The Media Line.

“Employers are being asked to make expensive, long-term hiring decisions when the short-term outlook is still full of variables. This is a very challenging task, and many employers will delay major decisions as long as possible,” he said.

Many foreigners, the bulk of the workforce in most Gulf countries, have moved out of the GCC as a result of the lack of employment opportunities and the reduction in pay, according to the study. Many of those that have chosen to remain have moved to completely different fields. Those who switched fields tend to be from the industries where the job market has contracted.

The study specifically cites aviation workers trying their hand at selling commercial and residential properties, and teachers — especially those who were laid off or had their salaries frozen — taking jobs as office support staff or working in online private tutoring. In addition, more people have set up shop at home and created their own businesses that involve providing goods or services via the internet.

Skilled employees based outside the Gulf were harder hit than those living in Gulf countries.

M. Khan, a former employee of a Gulf-based airline who declined to give his full name, lost his job this summer. Now in Dubai, he has started online classes to become a real-estate agent.

He told The Media Line that he hopes he will pass the real-estate exam. He said he must start earning income “quickly” or he will not be able to pay his rent.

He said he chose real estate because “I didn’t know what else to do. And my friends were doing it.”

According to the study, workers already in the GCC were in a better position during their interviews than those living outside the area.

Workers with degrees had a nearly 15% decline in interviews in the UAE and a 3% decline in Saudi Arabia. However, workers based in Qatar had a nearly 20% jump in interviews because foreign workers could not enter the country. Foreign workers make up some 94.9 percent of Qatar’s total workforce, according to the country’s Planning and Statistics Authority.

The long-term economic consequences of the study’s results on the GCC, as well as the success rate of those who remain and are changing careers, remains to be determined.