Education system 'failing Saudi jobs initiative'

EXCLUSIVE: Business chief says education, not attitude, is holding back Saudisation policy.
Education system 'failing Saudi jobs initiative'
By Soren Billing
Wed 21 Jan 2009 12:17 PM

Young Saudis are willing to take menial, entry level jobs but Saudisation is failing because the kingdom’s education system is letting them down, one of Saudi Arabia’s most outspoken businesswomen has said.

The problem is not that young Saudis do not want to work, but that an outdated education system that is failing to provide them with the right skills, Nadia Aldossary, chief executive of scrap metal company Al Sale Trading Co, said.

“I am with the young people. I think they want to do a lot of things but if they don’t know how to speak English, which is a vital skill, or if they don’t know how to go to a library, then yes, they will feel as if they don’t want to work,” she said.

Saudisation quotas, which allot a certain percentage of all jobs to nationals, have been arbitrarily enforced and big, powerful companies often find ways of circumventing them, she added. “It’s about who you are…There is no fixed law for everybody.

“We have six young Saudi men who come from good families, and they are working in the scrap yards under the sun. It is not true [that Saudis do not want to work]. But if you are just putting them at a desk and asking them to do something that they don’t know how to do…then they will feel down.”

More than 60 percent of the kingdom’s population is estimated to be under 18 years old, which will lead to a 112 percent increase in the total workforce over the next five years. At the moment, 83 percent of all jobs in the private sector are held by foreigners.

Saudi Arabia has invested heavily in education but private sector employers complain that the standards of vocational training remain low due to a lack of independent oversight.

“You have to have a benchmark and you have to have someone who will evaluate you, who’s outside the game…If I am asked to evaluate my own performance, I will give myself ten out of ten,” Aldossary said.

Saudi Aramco is often cited as a successful example of Saudisation. Aldossary said the state owned oil giant is a good example of what Saudis are capable of when provided with the right training.

“They do have real training modules on a very high level. But you can not ask the private sector to train people from zero to a hundred, because for most companies it costs too much.”

The government is not making good on promises to pay for the training of nationals looking for work in the private sector, she said.

Fawaz Al-Alamy, former Deputy Minister of Commerce and Industry and Saudi Arabia’s chief technical negotiator at the WTO, admitted that the Saudi education system needs to be overhauled.

“The Saudi Government has embarked on major concerted efforts by restructuring our education system,” he said.

More than 60,000 Saudis are on scholarship all over the world, 12 new universities are being built and 34 technical colleges are up and running, Al-Alamy, who was member of the Saudi government for 12 years, added.

Saudi labour law states that nationals should make up 75 percent of any company’s workforce. “In reality this percentage was achieved only in the banking sector, oil, and petrochemical industries. We still have a long way to go, but we are working hard to get there,” Al-Alamy said.

Companies that find it hard to recruit nationals with the right skills need to invest more in training them. “Companies need to upgrade their human resources and design special curricula to achieve their objectives. No doubt they will gain in the long run,” he said.

For more on Saudisation, see the January 25 issue of Arabian Business magazine.

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