Image Credit: Atiq-ur-Rehman/Gulf News

Dubai: With the forthcoming implementation of value-added tax (VAT) in the UAE and across the region, companies are going to face a huge talent crunch next year, according to recruitment specialists.

Businesses in the UAE are gearing up for the collection of VAT in 2018. It was earlier forecast that the next tax policy will generate thousands of new vacancies for finance professionals.

Taxation roles and other VAT-related positions are currently seeing very huge demand for skilled  professionals. Among the positions that have opened up recently include VAT managers, VAT and indirect tax specialists, senior VAT consultants and VAT junior associates and lead partners.  More positions are going to open up next year, with recruitment expected to intensify as the rollout draws closer.

However, UAE professionals with VAT qualifications and experience are in short supply, prompting employers to look abroad to fill the gap and sweeten their compensation packages.

While a significant portion of the expatriate workforce in the UAE may be familiar with VAT, many finance professionals in the country started their careers in the Gulf very early, so they lack the technical skills and experience in a tax environment.

“There is definitely a shortage of skilled talent available,” said Gareth El Mettouri, associate director at Robert Half UAE.

"Many now senior finance professionals started their careers in a non-tax environment after graduation and will, without adequate training, find it difficult to transition themselves," added Annalinde Nickisch, HR consultant at The Thought Factory.

She said next year will see a high demand for candidates who know how to help organisations transition into a new tax environment.

“The talent requirements for finance and tax professionals will exponentially increase as the VAT rollout approaches,” Nickisch told Gulf News.

Among the candidates that will be hugely in demand are those who have the experience in filling sales tax returns, as well as VAT specialsts and professionals who have the knowledge in VAT registration process, administration, fines and penalties and "impact on the operational and the financial performance" of companies.

“Many companies will need to re-implement, re-configure, and re-customize their existing systems as a large number of installations of popular accounting software or in-house designed ERP (enterprise resource planning) solutions may not have the inbuilt capacity to apply VAT onto the invoice value,” said Nickisch.

“This in turn will lead to a high demand of technical- functional and techno-functional- consultants who possess knowledge and experience in transitioning business processes into becoming compliant with the new VAT framework.”

Heading into the New Year, Robert Half has predicted that starting salaries for tax-related roles will see a rise of 4 per cent or above, higher than the average of 2.3 per cent for accounting and finance roles in the region.

Tax directors in large companies can expect the biggest increase in salaries, at a 6.5 per cent, while tax managers can see pay hikes of between 4.3 per cent and 4.7 per cent.

“Businesses across nearly all sectors will need to start reviewing their operational finance systems and process in preparation for the implementation of taxation and VAT over the next year,” said El Mettouri.

“Firms will need to also factor in the implications of VAT when rolling-out their ERP and SAP (systems applications and products) implementation. “

While some firms have already beefed up their recruitment drive, other organisations have opted to provide their existing staff with the necessary training, to prepare their businesses for the implementation of VAT.

“Many larger organizations have already initiated trainings by engaging external service providers to ensure that accounting and finance professionals within the organization are knowledgeable on the VAT registration process, VAT administration, fines and penalties related to VAT filing and its subsequent impact on the operational and the financial performance of the business,” said Nickisch.

Smaller companies, on the other hand, haven't done much to update their accounting and finance departments. 

"While some companies are proactively evaluating existing capabilities, filling gaps by conducting trainings and identifying hiring requirements, numerous businesses, especially in the SME market space, haven't given it a lot of thought yet," said Nickisch.

As to whether or not UAE-based candidates can still take advantage of the huge demand, Nickisch said those that have "prior working experience in a taxable environment" could land good offers.