Arab Health has grown to become one of the main healthcare events on the world calendar, as befits a region on the move and rapidly consolidating its place within both the global economy and local community. This event also proved to be a perfect demonstration of the global talent supply chain challenge. The obligatory statistics bonanza paints a startling picture:

Squire Patton Boggs, a global law firm, note that the Healthcare outlook for the countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRIC) carries a projected healthcare spend for 2010-2020 of staggering proportions: $3.6 trillion in hard infrastructure and $68.1 trillion in soft (social) infrastructure. Furthermore, in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) alone (countries include Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman), growth is expected to be 12%, from US$39.4 billion in 2013 to US$69.4 billion in 2018.

As the region accelerates the construction of Medical Cities and Hospitals in order to increase access to care, the demand for medical professionals scales exponentially. If we take a macro-step back, the numbers look grim. The World Health Organisation (WHO) advises that the industry will be short 12.9 million healthcare workers globally by 2035. Today, that figure stands at a shortage of 7.2 million workers globally, but in 57 countries, the situation is deemed to be in crisis, with fewer than 2.3 nurses, doctors and midwives for every 1,000 people – too few to deliver the basic level of care needed.

The healthcare industry will be short 12.9 million healthcare workers globally by 2035 - World Health Organisation

With demand for healthcare professionals in the GCC set to soar 240% in 20 years, healthcare leaders are facing significant shortages. McKinsey & Co. estimate that by 2025 the demand for hospital beds in the GCC region will at least double, with Saudi Arabia and UAE registering the greatest increase. According to a report by research firm Colliers International, the UAE alone will need an additional 5,188 beds by 2020.

People strategies have focused on developing local talent pools and talent mobility from overseas – up to 80% of medical staff in some hospitals and clinics are from outside the region and have been trained in more than 50 different countries. Attendees at the Cielo Healthcare and Moorland Gray think tank, however, noted that the region is producing more STEM and Medical students than ever before, and with the rise of this region, talent flows are no longer only one way. Gayan Nagpal describes this in detail in his best-selling book Talent Economics. Additionally, the PwC Talent Mobility 2020 report visualises the flows to and increasingly from the emerging markets to the more mature markets as the latter face their own people shortages.

In the U.S., the Brookings Institute estimates that over the past decade, the U.S. healthcare industry has added 2.6 million jobs nationwide, accounting for a 22.7% employment growth rate over 10 years, compared with 2.1% employment growth rate in all other industries. In the UK, Nursing Times estimates that demand for registered nurses will rise from 600,000 to 700,000 by 2016, but during the same period, the supply of nurses will fall from 570,000 to 510,000.

This means that we are all fishing from the same pond and stock is not replenishing quickly enough. But of course there’s more: delivering healthcare in the 21st century is no longer just about healthcare itself. Squire Patton Boggs note that “Healthcare delivery is evolving – needs are becoming increasingly complex” and that we “need the best people to make challenging decisions.” Modern healthcare providers also need to be tech savvy, global employers and patient communicators. Just as other traditional functions need to become more multi-dimensional, so do doctors and nurses as they seek to deliver care to ever more demanding patients within ever more complex organisations.

If you throw in challenges such as “glocal” messaging and selling new and different work destinations to talent who is traditionally averse to travelling, how can talent leaders and recruitment professionals keep up with the perfect storm of fast rising demand, fast shrinking supply and mobility perceptions?

The GCC region is already in the vanguard for investment, development and innovation, but how will this region deal with the obvious question: will it become a benchmark for local and global talent mobility or will we see an epic supply shortage?

The Cielo Healthcare and Moorland Gray think tank included CEOs, consultants and HR leaders from some of the biggest Healthcare organisations in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) and the key takeaway points included:

  • Align workforce planning with the funding cycle. As in, don’t build the medical city and then ask how to staff it.
  • Get the blend of international and local talent right. This has to be feasible, sustainable and, moreover, not based only on short-term thinking.
  • Optimize the talent acquisition process. This needs to be truly world class in order to support growth, mitigate risk and control costs.
  • Invest in employer branding. This may be my subjective opinion, but finding talent isn’t the only challenge anymore – convincing the right ones to join and inspiring them to stay and deliver great patient care is a part of today’s war for talent in global healthcare.
  • There is no room for errors. The initial candidate engagement and subsequent candidate experience of relocating is essential and a key margin difference. Losing what few candidates we have in the process is simply not affordable.

No one is getting younger, so the challenge now is for the GCC and the rest of the global healthcare sector to keep up with demand – either by winning more than their fair share of existing talent or by growing and retaining the talent they already have.


Post contributed by Andy Curlewis, SVP - Brand, Digital & Communications.