Additionally, the results indicate that employees in the sector feel not only under-trained, but also under-valued: of the respondents that had received professional training in the past year, 37% said it was beneficial, and nearly 48% said it was not applicable. Those latter response, perhaps, alludes to the absence of opt-in training sessions that allow employees to tailor and personalise their study, or worse, to poorly prepared training courses – little more than box-ticking exercises on the part of employers – under the guise of employee development programmes.

More importantly, 66% of respondents said that their employers did not ask for feedback on the training that was provided, leading employees to believe that their feedback was not valued.

Robert Jackson, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors’ (RICS) director for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), tells Construction Week that companies must avoid the temptation to save costs by cutting out training initiatives: “It is clear that, as markets across the region become increasingly competitive, companies are looking to drive operational efficiencies to maintain or deliver increased profitability. However, rather than cutting budgets on initiatives such as staff training, the evidence is clear that, in fact, investing in employee learning and development has multiple benefits.

“Competency-based training can ensure employees are working to consistent standards and methodologies, thus driving up efficiency and productivity while also mitigating risk.  Recruitment is also an expensive business, and all leaders recognise that retention of good staff is a critical success factor,” Jackson adds. 

“The survey reinforces our view that staff retention is not simply a factor of remuneration, but more [about] whether employers are providing learning and development opportunities for their staff.” 

If, as an employer, you believe that your staff will stick by you despite the absence of training and development opportunities, then think again: 61% of those surveyed by Construction Week said they would leave their current employer and role for an alternative that offered better education, training, and development prospects, even if no pay rise were offered. 

Cheriyan Alex, chief executive officer of UAE-based groundworks contractor, National Piling, says he believes the Middle East lacks qualified training programmes. “The main issue is the lack of time and funds allocated for such activities,” he explains. “Authorities and construction firms’ leaders have yet to realise that quality training will raise the efficiency and the standard of the company.”

According to Alex, the construction sector in the region is still facing a number of critical issues when it comes to understanding the needs of its employees: “The Middle East still has a deficiency in skills and there are very few experts in this market,” he says. “The majority have learned the job as an assistant to someone who did not have a proper structured and dedicated training. So, this set of people should be referred to as a semi-skilled workforce, and accordingly, more than 80% of Middle East’s workforce would be semi-skilled. As construction is a big sector, the only way [to improve the situation] is through periodical training and evaluation.” 

While it is clear that there is room for improvement in the Middle East’s construction education sector, business leaders will find that numerous resources are available to help them to better educate and upskill their employees. 

For instance, in line with the UAE’s – and the wider region’s – ambitions to develop smart cities, an educational course was launched this April at the UAE’s American University of Sharjah to teach executives about the ways that artificial intelligence (AI) can be applied to smart city projects. Students are not required to have prior knowledge of AI, and the course has been designed for mid- to high-level executives from the region.