Infrastructure Opportunities in the Gulf


The Gulf is becoming a more attractive and interesting market on many levels. There is noticeable heightened and sustained levels of growth when compared with other geographies, particularly across the development of Infrastructure and Energy Transition related projects. The region is expected to grow again by 2.5% in 2023, a slower pace than the impressive GDP growth of 7.3% in 2022 (Saudi Arabia itself coming in at 8.7%), but this was due largely to increased oil production.

With COP27 having been held in Egypt and COP28 around the corner in the UAE, there is increased discussion around the need for action towards achieving Net Zero targets – driving the boom in investment and project development across the region.

Whilst the intensified hype is all very promising, the sheer scale of the projects that are already ongoing, let alone those in the pipeline, comes with the stark reality that a large volume of appropriately skilled talent is required to facilitate them. In Saudi Arabia alone, it is estimated that there are more than ~USD 1 Trillion worth of Infrastructure & Real Assets projects under development or in the pipeline.

Across the region, there is a large and concerted talent drive to ensure that there is enough skilled Human Capital to push forward these agendas. Attention is turning to domestic employment policies such as ‘Emiratisation’ and ‘Saudisation’ to drive local talent into these sectors, but this will naturally take time to evolve.

The only effective short-term solution is for firms in the region to explore the International talent market to ensure they continue to build culturally diverse teams, in addition to these individuals bringing proven track record to assist in driving technical, financial & commercial best practice.

In order to develop the Infrastructure and Decarbonisation projects at the required speed, technical skillsets gained through exposure to more developed, mature markets and situations are sought after – but not to the detriment of cultural affinity. When embarking on a search process with our partners, much emphasis is placed on assessing an individual’s characteristics to ascertain how they might assimilate into an organisation that operates across the GCC, and the nuances therein from a practical business perspective when compared with other geographies.

Attraction of Talent: Regional Jostling

Whilst the desire to continue recruiting expats is there, questions turn to how the landscape continues to evolve in attracting the talent required to sustain the project pipeline. From our extensive conversations within the market, there is still a preference, for the most part, in expat talent leaning towards settling in the UAE as opposed to Saudi Arabia, Qatar or other areas of the GCC. Some relatively recent developments that have fuelled this further within the UAE are the introduction of the attractive 10-year ‘Golden Visa’ for expats, as well as having already adopted the Monday-Friday working week.

This being said, the changes that have taken place over the past few years, particularly in Qatar & Saudi Arabia, have been extensive and progressive and more expats are looking at these geographies. The former of course experienced a large amount of development required to host the FIFA World Cup, with it’s residents now able to utilise the modern infrastructure posttournament. The Kingdom has streamlined it’s visa process and continues to address women’s rights as part of the social reform plans within Vision 2030, in turn boosting the female work force participation rate by 64% in a two-year period.

There is a feeling that perhaps Riyadh isn’t all that far away from a ‘tipping point’ in which the narrative may well shift in it’s favour from a talent competitive standpoint – with some of the current challenges pitting it against other locations in the region continually diminishing. As part of it’s ‘Quality of Life Program’ launched in 2018, developments in areas such as Education, Healthcare and Entertainment are taking huge strides, all crucial factors for individuals to consider when making the move, particularly with family members. It is widely accepted that perhaps there is still some way to go, but if professionals are interested in exploring huge potential in the region and desire to be at the forefront of exponential growth, arguably like none seen before, then considering a ‘leap of faith’ will no doubt be rewarded.

One Search Perspective: Who’s in demand

Opportunities continue to arise within the Infrastructure, Energy & Decarbonisation space across the Gulf in alignment with the ambition and growth of the region itself. Professionals that have gained experience across M&A and Financing are arguably those we see in greatest demand from Investors, Banks and Corporates – whether from those looking to establish a presence, or deep-rooted domestic organisations looking to further their agendas.

Conversations are increasing around developing or improving Investor Relations practices with a product lens – particularly with International brands looking to benefit from a physical representative in the region. We are also seeing an increased amount of geographical scope with the Institutional Investors in particular, looking to invest ready capital into International markets as well as across the GCC – both in regard to Fund Investments and an increased appetite to explore Direct investments.

Our discussions are also picking up pace with portfolio companies, platforms and corporate businesses that are looking for specialist C-Suite and Senior Advisory talent as pertains to a particular commercial skillset, technology or geography – to further drive revenue growth & performance. Particular, heightened sector focus currently points to Digital Infrastructure, the Energy Transition and Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA).

The combination of higher demand in the region with some of the Government led changes that have happened over the past few years, the Gulf has never been as attractive as it is now. For more information on opportunities in the Region please contact

Jack Atkins
Principal, Equity & Portfolio

Having been with One Search since 2017, Jack leads our efforts in the Middle East from Abu Dhabi, tasked with establishing and growing One Search’s business in the region. He is part of the Private Equity and Portfolio practices, delivering search and talent solutions to leading Infrastructure and Energy investors, corporates and financial institutions across the GCC region.

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