Following last year’s active market and a number of mega projects being commissioned (Dubai Creek Harbour, Dubai Hills and developments at Dubai South) the outlook for 2018 is making a number of the top five consultants a little nervous.

Most have plenty of backlog for Q1-Q4; however, the volatile nature of projects, delayed start dates, or projects changing course during the design life cycle is posing many challenges.

From speaking to a number of senior MEP leaders within the top five consultants, people are currently gearing up for 2018 and they spent the early part of Q1 restructuring their teams to adapt to the ever-changing landscape. This is not necessarily a negative, just evolving with the nature of market forces, the key being smart enough to adapt.

Many of the smaller (both local and international) consultancies focussed on bespoke services offerings have ground to make. Many of the major clients are looking for the best value and they want to understand the price point of design fees, in the same breath, as they quite rightly have high expectations in terms of quality, innovative approach to design, understanding the client’s needs and real focus which is Return on Investment (ROI) for all projects.

Throughout 2017, I have had many conversations during the year with regards to fees being on a downward trend changing the landscape of bidding strategies for many firms and a number of people adopting the offshore design model, which has many challenges in itself, especially when it comes to ensuring projects are being designed on time and at very high quality.

Many directors in leadership positions are using the phrase “Race to the Bottom” when it comes to fees. Although healthy completion is always deemed a positive, corners being cut may be attributed to some quality issues being experienced in the market. This is where the smaller firms have a great opportunity to compete with the big boys! The well-established smaller firms feel they are generally producing higher quality work and have a much better chance of maintaining consistency. The focus in 2018 must be for firms to produce truly integrated designs, embracing software in the form of digital engineering coupled with good old school sound engineering principles and coordination processes will be the key to taking the design of buildings to the next level.

Major developments/projects on the horizon

The UAE design and construction sector is far from looking at slowing down. Many new developments are currently in the early stages of design or currently being tendered. Dozens are being planned, many are focussed around retail, residential communities as well as a wealth of hospitality shown into the mix. This is key to keep the governments aspirations on track with regard to year on year significantly increasing tourism numbers.

Skills shortages

We have seen a huge demand and need for consultancies to appoint UPDA Grade A MEP Engineers, that either have the Grade A status, or that tick all of the boxes for eligibility. This is also a mandatory requirement for consultants from a licensing perspective as well.

ELV and Security Engineers of all levels are being sought by many consultancies, being such a niche skillset.

MEP Engineers from Principal level and above across the region are highly sought after, that are technically strong, with leadership & business development skills to enable the consultants ultimately to win new work.


At 5% VAT, this has not seen any visible impact on most businesses. This will increase the UAE government’s ability to fund projects as significant revenues will be generated with the introduction of VAT. Whilst many businesses across the UAE are getting to grips with this and employing teams to implement the changes, this should only be seen as a positive at this stage.

Supply and demand

The vast majority of hires over the last 12 months have been MEP engineers based within the MENA region, with very few employers looking to recruit externally. Employers need candidates who are able to hit the ground running and have knowledge of the local market, regulations, codes and standards. This has been more and more common, especially in the UAE, which now has a huge talent pool of engineers, many of which have established themselves in the region for more than 10 years now.

Few employees expect salary increases over the next 12 months, due to the tight budgets in today’s marketplace, meaning the development and retention of employees across all disciplines is crucial.

Switching jobs? Good conduct certificates required from 4 February, 2018

The new requirement of having to produce a ‘certificate of good conduct’ to obtain work visas in the UAE comes into effect from 4 February, 2018.

It is a document to prove that you have no criminal record and are fit to work and live in the UAE. It is essentially a background check for anyone looking to work in the UAE.

It is a very straightforward process for UAE residents that can be applied for online or via the Dubai police app and this is valid for three months.

If an expatriate comes to the UAE as a new employee, he/she will have to get a good conduct certificate. Dependent on the country you have been working in over the last five years (Philippines - NBI), (India - police clearance) before the visa can be issued, covering five years of history.