UAE salary guide: Which sectors are hiring and how much are they paying?
Technology specialists can earn more than Dh45,000 a month and pharma companies will pay up to Dh80,000 for director-level roles
Banking. All images Ramon Penas / The National
May 11, 2021
While border closures and movement restrictions during the Covid-19 pandemic affected the global jobs market in 2020, recruitment experts are upbeat for 2021 and say hiring is on the rise.
That spells good news for jobseekers in the UAE, particularly if they have experience in sectors such as IT and digital technology, FinTech, healthcare, pharmaceuticals, manufacturing and fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG). However, industries including hospitality, tourism, leisure and entertainment continue to be impacted by the pandemic, hiring experts add.
“That being said, these sectors have got busier and we expect the number of jobs available in these industries to increase as movement restrictions ease and vaccine administration increases,” says Chris Greaves, managing director of global recruitment agency Hays in the Gulf region.

IT is the most in-demand profession in the current market and specifically jobs relating to cloud, software engineering, data analytics and artificial intelligence
Chris Greaves, managing director, Hays Gulf region
This optimism is reflected in the upbeat sentiment of UAE employers, with 60 per cent of them planning to recruit additional staff in 2021 as an economic recovery boosts the hiring market outlook, according to the Hays 2021 Emiratisation Salary & Employment report. About 62 per cent of UAE nationals and 56 per cent of expatriate workers reported feeling positive about their career prospects for the year ahead, the study found.
“Information technology is the most in-demand profession in the current market and specifically jobs relating to cloud, software engineering, data analytics and artificial intelligence,” Mr Greaves says. “We have also seen ongoing demand for sales professionals who are commercially astute and results driven.”
There is high demand for software engineers, development operations (DevOps) and security roles specifically focused on open-sourced tools for back-end and front-end development utilising cloud-based tools, according to AIQU Search, a division of TASC Outsourcing that focuses on technology recruitments.
Job seekers tend to favour employers who offer an attractive salary and flexible working options. Photo: Getty Images
“We are actively hiring across most verticals in technology: software engineers, DevOps engineers, quality assurance engineers, product, data, mobile engineers and security,” says Bradley Maasdorp, DevOps and cloud lead (permanent recruitment) at AIQU Search.
“I think the global market is moving away from business analysts and project manager roles and shifting towards product-focused roles where collaborative teams are in play.”
Recruitment agency Mackenzie Jones Middle East is focused on filling finance, sales and marketing roles in food, FMCG and consumer industries, says David Mackenzie, founder of the company. Some retail companies have also started to recruit for roles such as country director and general manager, he tells The National.
While hiring in the pharma and medical device sectors has remained relatively stable since the start of the pandemic, it has picked up in 2021, particularly in Saudi Arabia, according to Kinetic Business Solutions, which sources professionals for these industries.
“There has been a spike in hiring in the first quarter of 2021 towards sales roles, from product specialist and medical representatives through to sales managers and commercial managers,” says Mark Nancarrow, managing partner of Kinetic Business Solutions. There is also a shortage of telehealth professionals in the UAE, he says.
In terms of salaries, the best-paying jobs in IT include back-end tech specialists in programming languages such as Java and Python, cloud and DevOps engineers, mobile technology specialists (iOS and Android), artificial intelligence, machine learning, computer vision and Big Data specialists, according to Hays.
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Specialists with more than 10 years of experience in emerging technologies are being paid in excess of Dh45,000 per month, Mr Greaves says.

Mr Maasdorp, of AIQU Search, says: “Best-paying jobs are architects in engineering, security or the cloud. Salaries here are in the region of Dh35,000 to Dh55,000, depending on company size and scope of the role.”
Director-level roles offer the best pay in the pharma and medical device industries and can range between Dh50,000 and Dh80,000 per month, Mr Nancarrow says. A general manager can be offered anywhere from Dh60,000 to Dh130,000 per month, while senior commercial roles, regulatory and medical affairs directors can expect to be paid between Dh60,000 and Dh85,000 a month.
“The salaries vary depending on the size of the company. A smaller company may hire a chief financial officer for Dh60,000 per month whereas a larger, global organisation may pay up to Dh130,000 per month plus benefits for such a role,” he adds.
On the other hand, roles such as human resource managers pay between Dh30,000 and Dh35,000, sales managers earn from Dh25,000 to Dh30,000, and a financial controller’s salary ranges from Dh25,000 to Dh35,000, Mr Mackenzie says.
Although the economic uncertainties caused by the Covid-19 pandemic have caused some organisations to cut costs and hire more mid- to junior-level candidates, this has not been the case in the UAE's IT industry, Mr Greaves says.
Many organisations have reduced staffing budgets and are more open to hiring junior and mid-level employees rather than senior professionals who require a higher salary. Getty Images
“There have been no changes with regards to the seniority of candidates in demand by IT employers. Demand here is driven by degree of technical expertise, with the most specialist professionals in highest demand,” he says.
However, across the rest of the market, many organisations have reduced staffing budgets and are more open to hiring junior and mid-level employees rather than senior professionals who require a higher salary, Mr Greaves adds.
For instance, there is a greater volume of hiring junior and mid-managerial employees for shared service functions such as HR, compliance, finance, medical and regulatory affairs, according to recruitment experts.

Best-paying jobs are architects in engineering, security or the cloud. Salaries here are in the region of Dh35,000 to Dh55,000
Bradley Maasdorp, DevOps and cloud lead (permanent recruitment), AIQU Search
“Life science organisations have taken the pandemic as an opportunity to offshore certain senior roles and functions to locations where salaries are less, comparable to the UAE,” Mr Nancarrow says.
While it was common for employers to offer extra perks in salary packages, such as car, housing and education allowances, to senior employees, these are increasingly being rolled back or reduced to keep a lid on costs. However, employers doing away with education allowances in employment packages has been an ongoing trend and is not a direct result of the pandemic, according to Hays.
“They may be willing to pay for schooling of up to two children now, whereas in the past they would have paid school fees for up to four children. Other benefits that some companies have reduced are vehicle allowances – giving someone up to Dh100,000 per year towards a car may not be necessary in the current climate where there is less commuting and more virtual meetings,” Mr Nancarrow adds.
Travel allowances have also been cut in the past 12 months because the pandemic has resulted in more people working from home and no longer require it, Mr Greaves says.
“What Covid-19 has helped with is realising that it’s better to hire someone who is still hands-on than a bog-standard manager,” Mr Maasdorp says. “Companies are more inclined to hire individual contributors who can collaborate well within teams.”
The top five skills employers look for in new hires are communication, adaptability, attention to detail, ability to multitask and work well under pressure, according to recruiters.

Some companies have reduced vehicle allowance – giving up to Dh100,000 per year towards a car may not be necessary in the current climate where there is less commuting and more virtual meetings
Mark Nancarrow, managing partner, Kinetic Business Solutions
Employers also look for candidates with local and industry experience. They want to know that potential new employees have the know-how and experience to deliver their organisation’s objectives from day one.
“Key to securing a job is being able to demonstrate to future employers how you can add value to the organisation. Job seekers’ CVs should be results-oriented, showing the outcomes they have delivered and the impacts these have had on a company’s bottom line,” Mr Greaves says.
The pandemic has also highlighted the need for soft skills such as self-motivation, the ability to work independently, team spirit and resilience. Job seekers must demonstrate these skills when applying for roles, experts say.
For jobseekers in the IT industry, Mr Maasdorp recommends being an engineer in one of the core programming languages such as Java, .Net Core, Python or JavaScript.
“This is always a great place to start as the fundamentals of these languages can be transferred to other new languages," he says. "In the DevOps arena, it’s advisable to upskill on Terraform and Kubernetes, especially for those who previously worked on Jenkins and Ansible.”
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Aside from salary, jobseekers are increasingly favouring employers who offer flexible working options, including flexible hours and working remotely.

Organisations will have more appetite to return their employees to offices after summer this year, although only for two to three days per week, according Kinetic Business Solutions.
“Job seekers also seek security in employment and therefore want to understand the longevity of their role – how it is likely to develop and their career progression options within the organisation,” Mr Greaves says.
In the IT industry, start-ups are also offering stocks or share options to new employees, according to Mr Maasdorp.
“Work-life balance is a key decision-making factor for any technology contributor, so it’s no longer something we need to demand or put as a perk. Flexibility is now an accepted norm. Gone are the days where we needed employees in the office all day, all week,” he says.
A majority of new hires are now being on-boarded remotely, with the interview process taking place online and decisions on new hires being made without ever meeting in person, Mr Nancarrow says.
“We are seeing roughly a 50:50 split when it comes to remote and in-person hiring,” Mr Maasdorp says.
“The pandemic has forced more organisations to be open to and implement remote on-boarding. However, general sentiment is that in-person, in-country hiring is still of preference and will be the most common means to hiring in the future.”
Updated: May 11, 2021 11:06 AM
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David Mackenzie, founder of recruitment agency Mackenzie Jones Middle East
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