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Professionals in the GCC are changing careers just to keep a job, thanks to COVID-19

As is often the case during challenging times like these, people are making sacrifices to stay employed. While this often involves accepting reduced wages and salaries, it is increasingly meaning a switch in careers.

This is according to the latest findings released by Middle East online recruitment firm GulfTalent, which noted that the sharp drop in hiring activity in the Gulf has forced many professionals to look for jobs in new sectors Among job categories, the drop in employment was most severe for teachers and catering professionals Most other professions saw moderate drops in demand – including engineers and lawyers, followed by marketing, IT, finance and HR professionals

2020 has been a year like no other. It has been the year where we came to know one of the worst pandemics the world has ever seen, forcing us to isolate and social distance like we’ve never had to before. Economies have been devastated, and unemployment rates are at all-time highs. 

During this tumultuous year, many people unfortunately lost their jobs. Even in a prosperous region like the GCC, layoffs have been rampant, even at some of the biggest companies in the region

As is often the case during challenging times like these, people are making sacrifices to stay employed. While this often involves accepting reduced wages and salaries, it is increasingly meaning a switch in careers, sometimes quite drastically. This is according to the latest findings released by Middle East online recruitment firm GulfTalent, which noted that the sharp drop in hiring activity in the Gulf has forced many professionals to look for work in new sectors.

The study compared the trends in interview invitations received by jobseekers on GulfTalent.com website during the 9-month period from March to November 2020 against the same period in 2019. It found that the average number of interview invitations per active jobseeker was down by almost 50% for some segments of the market.

Read: UAE’s job market, job seekers and future of work

Losers (job categories): Among job categories, the drop in employment was most severe for teachers and catering professionals. Most other professions saw moderate drops in demand – including engineers and lawyers, followed by marketing, IT, finance and HR professionals.

Winners (job categories): Meanwhile, a handful of professions saw employment demand increase during the pandemic – notably medical staff who enjoyed a 19% increase in demand, followed by logistics professionals at 12%, thanks to the rapid growth of online shopping.

Mixed result (job categories): Sales professionals experienced a mixed impact, with those in tele-sales seeing a boost in demand due to the restrictions on travel and face-to-face meetings.

Losers (sectors): Among sectors of the economy, the biggest drop in hiring activity was in education, aviation and hospitality. 

Winners (sectors): The only sectors increasing hiring activity relative to the same period last year were healthcare and logistics.

“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,” an analyst involved with the study 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.

Read: Before you interview for a job, do a background check on the company

GCC less affected than India, Egypt, and Lebanon

In terms of location, professionals based locally within the Gulf saw a smaller impact from the pandemic. Interview invitations to candidates based in the UAE and Saudi Arabia dropped by 14% and 3% respectively, while those in Qatar saw interviews increase by 17% as employers were no longer able to fill vacancies with newly imported talent.

By contrast, candidates based in India and Pakistan seeking opportunities in the Gulf saw demand drops of 46% and 41% respectively, as flight cancellations and border closures brought international hiring to a standstill. A similar slowdown was experienced in hiring from Egypt and Lebanon, Arab countries that are common recruiting grounds for Gulf employers.

Salaries have dropped an average of 24%

The pandemic has also resulted in a large drop in salaries, as the supply-demand balance has shifted in favor of employers. Analysis of vacancies posted on GulfTalent.com in the 9 months since the onset of the pandemic reveals an average 24% drop in salaries advertised, compared to the same period last year. The salary drop was greatest for professions most affected by the pandemic, such as teachers and chefs, while less affected roles saw smaller salary drops or no drop at all.

Read: Firing squad: Kuwaitization, Saudization, driving expats out of jobs

Career transitions

Many cabin crew who lost their jobs have transitioned to real estate brokerage roles. Among teachers facing job losses or unpaid leave, admin and secretarial roles have been common destinations. Meanwhile, many catering professionals who were made redundant have taken up employment in customer service roles.

The pandemic has also pushed many into home-based freelance jobs or entrepreneurship. Some teachers reported for the first time teaching students privately from home via Zoom, while a small but growing number of people from different backgrounds are setting up online stores selling goods.

Looking forward

In June, GulfTalent released a different study that noted that UAE hiring had begun to rebound after a 50% plunge following the onset of the pandemic. With Dubai having opened to travelers back in the summer, and with Abu Dhabi opening up soon, the country is returning to a semblance of normal. 

The latest edition of PwC’s Middle East Economy Watch, also showed that economic activity picked up in Q3, with leading economic performance indicators showing signs of recovery, the Khaleej Times reported.