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Location Location

Consultants are looking to double or even treble staff numbers in the Middle East over the next five years. But which are the best places in the region to work?

Dubai may be the centre of the Gulf construction boom and in turn receive the most attention, but engineers with experience of working throughout the region recommend Bahrain, Oman and Abu Dhabi as the best places to live.

In a survey by international recruitment specialists EPC Global, over 500 engineers that have worked in the region since 2003 have made recommendations on the best places to live and work.

Internationally, 88% of engineers recommended Bahrain as a good place to live. It was also ranked as having high or very high living standards by 50% of all engineers that have spent time there. "It is a very liberal society and very comfortable," says Hyder's project director Brett Doughty who moved to Bahrain two years ago (see page 32). "The cost of living is a lot cheaper than some other states – a three course meal can be less than £6."

That the Gulf states are ranking high in these international recommendations is good news for consultants in the region. Firms are increasingly turning to global markets for their staff. "We have staff of 41 nationalities," says Parsons Brinckerhoff (PB) managing director Stuart Wallace.

"We source our staff globally, drawing them from the US, the UK, Singapore, Hong Kong, Korea, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa."

Like many consultants PB is prioritising growing staff numbers. "We are committed to growing our Middle East business from the current number of 600 to 1000 in 2010. Our 2012 target is less defined but we are thinking of around 1500," says Wallace.

Scott Wilson is also looking to almost triple staff numbers. It currently has 240 staff in the region. "But we are looking to have 700 by 2009," says regional director Eddie Foster. In 2005 there was just 40 staff, so the firm has demonstrated its ability to grow quickly.

Multiply these opportunities for civil engineers by the 20 plus UK firms operating in the region, before even considering other international companies, and the result is that opportunities for civil engineers are vast.

All Gulf states are investing heavily in infrastructure and recruitment consultants such as EPC Global and BBT place more than 100 engineers a month each. This means that engineers really can pick and choose where to live.

When considering Middle Eastern countries by a range of specific criteria such as transport infrastructure and accommodation, Oman rates most highly. "Oman is a great place to live," says EPC Global operations manager Joe Rothwell. "The culture is different [from other Gulf states].

The locals are more active in the day-to-day workings of business and are much more hands on. It makes for a better working and social environment."

It seems engineers agree, 67% of respondents, say Oman have a high or very high quality of life, compared with 51% in Abu Dhabi and only 20% in Saudi Arabia. Abu Dhabi scored highly on healthcare and suitability for expatriate families.

Only 18% of those who had worked in Saudi Arabia were satisfied with the leisure amenities on offer, which compares to a high of 65% for Dubai.

In terms of the professional environment there was also frustration in Saudi Arabia that the proficiency of local staff was low with only 17% being satisfied with local colleagues' performance. By this criteria Iran scored the highest with 56%.

In terms of health and safety Qatar was considered to be the worst performing state among engineers with only 31% happy with existing standards. Rothwell puts this down to the pace of development in the state. "Qatar has essentially gone from being almost a small town to a global city as it becomes the world's biggest exporter of natural gas. The low health and safety score is probably because it has had to develop so quickly," he says.

In such fast moving markets as Qatar and with demand being so high it is common for staff to move between firms. For an employee to do this, a document must be issued by the existing employer called a no objections certificate (NOC). "We always give NOCs. Now and then we find that some firms don't want to give them to incoming staff. In these cases we try and negotiate with the current employers," says Wallace. "In many cases we expect to get the staff back eventually. The grass is not always greener."

Demand for staff in the region shows no sign of slowing and although inflation is high salaries are rising too. For civil engineers looking for international experience, the positions are waiting.

Click here for map of where to work

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