Arab youth would benefit from mandatory military service and need to be more modest in their job expectations, the head of one of Saudi Arabia’s largest companies has said at the World Economic Forum in Jordan.
Saudi Basic Industries Corporation CEO Mohammed Al Mady, who is also co-chair of WEF on the Middle East and North Africa, said there were plenty of jobs in Arab countries but youth were reluctant to accept them, while governments imported cheap and apathetic labour from other parts of the world.
The average unemployment rate for youth across the region is 28 percent, the forum heard, while youth made up about half of the population.
“The problem really is [that] you have to tackle the cultural dimensions of the labour force. People don’t accept jobs,” Al Mady said during a forum discussion on how to address the Arab employment crisis.
“They want the jobs that will give them higher money and stability. That’s not going to happen; they have to accept certain jobs [in] categories that fit their situation.
“The countries have to work very hard in how to change the perception of their youth so that they can accept the existing jobs.
“How do we change them? Governments have to probably draft them into the military for six months before they go into the job market … [to] give them resilience, [teach] them how to be modest, how to work, how to take the ladder step by step until they reach what they want.”
It is estimated that 85 million jobs need to be created in the Arab world by 2020.
Numerous countries, including Saudi Arabia, have initiated nationalisation programs to force the private sector to employ more nationals.
Al Mady, whose company employs 20,000 people in Saudi Arabia, said the kingdom’s nitaqat system was a political “quick win” and did not necessarily address the problem of improving the quality of youth for employment purposes.
“There’s nothing better than really working together with government and the youth,” he said.
Al Mady also said relaxing barriers for Arabs to work in other Arab countries would help match the unemployed with available jobs, helping to address the region’s need for more jobs while reducing its reliance on foreign workers.
Expats make up a significant proportion of the workforce – as much as two-thirds - in many Gulf countries.
The forum also has heard that there is a dependence on governments to employ citizens, bloating the public sector, adding pressure on budgets and creating a culture of entitlement.