Exclusive: Iraq’s surprising skills gap

Senior level expatriate managers brought into the country lack expertise

Iraq remains an unattractive posting for senior level management for firms operating in the troubled country.

The c-suite management sent to Iraq by major international companies, lack the same expertise as executives sent to other Middle East markets, said the country’s largest private sector employer, Al Fayha.

The precast giant employs 1400 people across the region, and Al Fayha said the country is dependent on the foreign labour sent by international oil and gas, construction and development companies, but that the firm’s recruitment is not of the same calibre as that sent to other Middle East markets.

Speaking to Big Project Middle East, Al Fayha deputy CEO, Salahuding H Al-Ibrahim, said: “We hoped these companies would send expertise that would benefit the situation and improve our capacities. There is a procedure to follow in projects and we do look to them to guide us through this but they do not do that.”

It’s a claim substantiated by MacDonald and Co director, Ben Waddilove, who says that opportunities in other Gulf markets are far more attractive.

“That probably would be the case because there are other opportunities in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar that senior management would want to go take. Iraq is a hardship placement and these people are senior so it is the last place they would want to go to, especially with a family,” Waddilove commented.

“They will have to pay good people to go over there, but in the past, to woo property professionals over to run a construction or development company in those places, it has been difficult to attract that talent and you will have a different quality of person that’s available to do that,” he added.

With an influx of international companies looking to tap the new opportunities in Iraq’s burgeoning construction market, the leadership of the companies will become ever more important as the country rebuilds after years of war.

Al Fayha engineering manager Omar Farooq Aftan, added: “They have to bring European or Western employees just to fill the position of CEO and they do that based on nationality, rather than skills. This is the common practice; they are developers, we are executors, they should lead us, but we discovered that we have been disappointed.”


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