Entrepreneurship can tackle workforce imbalance in Oman’s construction sector

Conrad Prabhu –
Promoting entrepreneurship and small business development in the construction industry — a major employment generator albeit dominated by blue-collar expat workers — is pivotal to enabling Omanis to harnessing the business and economic potential of this sector, according to prominent industry figure.
Khalid al Mahrooqi, Vice Chairman of the Oman Green Building Council, said Omani SMEs hold the key to creating entrepreneurial and employment opportunities for nationals in this critically important sector of the Omani economy.
He told a construction forum held in the city recently that the SME-driven approach has a better chance of sparking the growth of financially rewarding and professionally fulfilling jobs for Omanis than the conventional approach of Omanising blue-collar jobs.
According to figures released by the Oman Society of Contractors (OSC), Omanis currently account for a mere 8 per cent (56,000) of the estimated 650,000 workers in the construction sector. Efforts to bolster Omanisation in this key sector have failed to gain traction primarily because of the relatively unattractive pay packages for blue collar workers coupled with the challenging workplace conditions especially during the hot summer months of the year.
Speaking at the construction forum, Al Mahrooqi, who is also the Managing Director of Premier Projects — well-known Omani construction and contracting company — strongly advocated an entrepreneurial approach to job creation for Omanis in this sector.
“We need to attract Omanis to the construction market not based on job offers alone. Even if we have to try for the next 100 years, to make Omanis become labourers will be very difficult. It will require a tremendous change in mindsets and the educational system as well — (a process that) will take generations,” the veteran contractor said.
“But we have seen that Omanis are eager to be entrepreneurs. There are a lot of Omani SMEs that are suppliers of building materials or operators of transportation companies. (Not only do they support themselves, but) often they hire the services of their Omani friends as accountants, sales persons, and so on, (thereby creating job opportunities for their compatriots),” he explained.
“Thus, if we create, say 1000 SMEs, they will end up hiring some 5,000 Omanis as entrepreneurs or employees,” Al Mahrooqi noted.
In this regard, the contractor urged the Public Authority for SME Development (Riyada), among other SME development agencies, to enable the proliferation of Omani-owned and operated small businesses in the construction industry.
“At present, the contracting sector is the lowest contributor to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP); this has to change,” he stressed.