Reports of the UAE job market showing signs of recovery may not ring true in the construction and engineering industry due to the recruitment strategy of ‘talent pooling’, says the founder of an artficial-intelligence-driven platform that connects candidates with the region’s top employers in the sector.

Middle East recruitment firm, Gulf Talent, recently released research claiming hiring activity in the UAE is increasing, following a 50 per cent decrease due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, this contradicts figures on the FifthEdge platform, which conducted screening and created profiles for over 17,000 construction and engineering professionals during lockdown, creating live talent pools of over 900 criteria-matched candidates for early-adopter companies using the platform.

FifthEdge’s live data shows 30 per cent of registered ‘passive’ candidates have changed their job seeking status to ‘active’ or ‘immediate’ in June 2020, showing an escalating amount of talent searching for live employment opportunities. This is in stark contrast to how employers are engaging with the platform, where over 80 per cent of organisations using the platform are not actively hiring for existing roles but are instead focusing on connecting with an engaged pool of talent for roles that may become available within the next three to six months.

FifthEdge’s founder and CEO, Marcus Taylor, explains hiring data may be misleading due to a lack of transparency in the region’s recruitment market. According to Taylor, although there may appear to be more job roles in the market, there is little evidence more employers are actually hiring, due to the way recruiters and employers traditionally talent pool in preparation for future projects.

Having worked within the region’s construction and engineering recruitment sector for over 15 years, Taylor is not surprised by the increase in apparent roles appearing on the market. He said: “If we look at projects in the region, factoring in delays and the impact COVID-19 has had on the construction and engineering sector, we know there currently isn’t enough market activity to result in a significant increase in the number of roles immediately available. What we’re seeing, which is causing the apparent upswing in hiring activity, is talent pooling. We know 92 per cent of all global FTSE 500 employers adopt the strategy of talent pooling. This means they are interacting with candidates for future roles. There is nothing wrong with this, and it’s a smart way to ensure companies are future-ready and can react quickly when projects are won and people are needed. However, this also means over 80 per cent of job roles we see advertised online, on social media platforms or job boards, aren’t active. The roles just aren’t live, and candidates applying for these positions will be placed onto a database for upcoming recruitment activity. The real challenge is the almost-impossible task for any employers to keep that database accurate and up to date. Therefore, it becomes far easier for them to keep pulling fresh applicants in than to comb through a decaying database. This has become the norm because, until now, there has been no other way to intelligently and proactively resource talent.

“The real issue here is transparency. While companies and recruiters understand jobs may be advertised because the advert has already been paid for, to grow social media followers and engagement, or even just to get a leg-up on finding talent for future roles that may or may not materialise, candidates are mostly unaware. Many candidates applying for roles online assume the adverts they are answering are for jobs currently available and could result in an immediate hire, which in turn has an impact on their decision as to whether they stay in the region while unemployed in the hope they will secure a new role,” Taylor explained.

While Taylor is doubtful there is a significant increase in available roles and new hires, he remains optimistic there are opportunities available. He points out Saudi Arabia remains far more active and recommends job seekers in the UAE expand their search to include the kingdom and other locations. This is confirmed by FifthEdge data, which shows 322 per cent more UAE-based candidates have changed their status to immediately available when compared to candidates located in Saudi Arabia, indicating more candidates in the emirates are seeking their next opportunity more urgently than counterparts in the kingdom. The data also shows a large number of candidates changing their location preferences to show a willingness to relocate to Saudi Arabia.

Once registered on FifthEdge, the technology matches an individual’s skillsets to criteria set by construction and engineering companies, who can view only those candidates who have expressed an interest in their organisations, enabling them to significantly increase recruitment capacity and reduce cost-to-hire as they prepare for potential upcoming projects.

Taylor explains: “Candidates signing up to FifthEdge can set their profiles as passive, active or immediately available. This has provided real insight into how many people are more actively seeking new opportunities. For example, we can see there has been a dramatic increase in the number of candidates who are changing their status from passive to active, with many stating they are immediately available. This trend demonstrates there are more people losing their jobs in the sector or having their salaries reduced, so they need to look for another job. For many, it is either find a role quickly or face having to move back to their home countries.”