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Despite Strong Growth, Middle East Faces Labor Challenges

The issue of acquiring and retaining skills in the region was scrutinized at MRO Middle East on Feb. 10.

DUBAI--Despite healthy growth forecasts for the Middle East—with Aviation Week data showing regional MRO growth projections above the global average at an enviable 7.3%—the region is not immune to the labor challenges faced by many aftermarket providers worldwide.

With MRO spend predicted to surpass $92 billion between now and 2028, there is plenty of work being generated and this means finding the enough manpower to carry it out. This demand was further illustrated this week by Boeing, which forecast that the Middle East region will need 63,000 technicians over the next two decades to service a booming MRO segment predicted by the OEM to number $240 billion.

The population of the Arab world is a young one – with more than 60% of its people under the age of 25. Companies are trying to make the most of this by bringing in new talent into the sector via avenues such as higher education institutions.

One company concerned by the talent gap in the region is Abu Dhabi-based engine specialist Turbine Services & Solutions (TS&S), which like the Middle East, is going through its own impressive growth trajectory. In 2018, 94 engines went through its shop, representing a 60% increase in just five years.

Mansoor Janahi, acting CEO of TS&S, says there is a shortfall of manpower that could hurt its growth requirements. However, Janahi believes the real challenge lies in retaining staff as opposed to recruiting them. “This is where companies must have strong plans in place and a strong value proposition,” he says, adding that TS&S currently employs around 370 people.

A sizeable number of these are expatriates, with the United Arab Emirates a popular destination for overseas workers. This remains the case, yet some companies are switching their attentions to other regions to source talent.

Shevantha Weerasekera, head of engineering technical services at Etihad Airways Engineering, says the airline affiliated MRO has successful talent sourcing programs in place but has started changing which regions it looks to for staff.

“There was a trend to look east but that is now shifting towards Europe,” he says. “There’s been problems in Europe with various bankruptcies freeing up technical talent.” While Weerasekera concedes this has been beneficial to Etihad, he admits that in the long-term this is not sustainable. Instead, like many UAE-based institutions, the belief is that sourcing domestic talent is a more sustainable model. “For us, the long-term view is generating talent locally,” he says.

TAGS: Middle East
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