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Wed 21 Jan 2009 12:17 PM

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Education system 'failing Saudi jobs initiative'

EXCLUSIVE: Business chief says education, not attitude, is holding back Saudisation policy.

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The problem is not that young Saudis do not want to work, but that an outdated education system that is failing to provide them with the right skills, Nadia Aldossary, chief executive of scrap metal company Al Sale Trading Co, said.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

For all the latest education news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.

GB 11 years ago

The statement "you can not ask the private sector to train people from zero to a hundred, because for most companies it costs too much.” isindicative of the problem in the workforce that is dominated by foreign labour. The companies do not want to train them because it will mean they lose their positions to Saudis, Education is a problem granted, because in most public schools english lessons are translated into Arabic and given to the students, not just in Saudi but in most of the Guilf areas. Private schools are a little better at delivering English, but the standards are way below their western counterparts at the same grade level. For this it needs a realistic overhaul of the system, where students are thought to think independently, not relying on rote training which is the most common method of teaching in the Middle East because it is easier. The curriculum needs to be bought in line with international standards, which would enable pupils to transition from secondary school into university, or workplaces easily. As a teacher of TOEFL and LELTS I have seen the lack of preparation for students even for university entrance where one of these two subjects is mandatory for entrance. Therefore it is only natural that the vocational skills would be of this level too. The solution lies in real time work training enterprises where students can be trained on the job with incentives given to companies who are willing to train workers properly. With the right tools in place there is no reason why nationals cannot be placed in jobs successfully. Hands on experience and proper training are a recipe for success.

John R. Diedam 11 years ago

I have had the distinct pleasure to know and work with some of the most intelligent people on this earth and they are Saudi Nationals. In my small part of the world we help build safe schools for all of our children to learn in a safe and comfortable environment. Over the years, I have seen investment in the education system in Saudi Arabia, and it has been in quality programs and equipment. Though I am in the security sector invloved in brick and mortar, the mentality continues in the teaching side as well and the curriculum. I personally have three members of my family in the teaching world. They told me that teaching is their passion. But when the teaching environment is cheap and disfunctional, it lowers the desire to teach and only doing the minimum. Our teachers need safe, productive, comfortable, teaching environments, not surrounded by chinese door locks, low cost, teaching aids and disruptive buildings. This is even more true with our students. These are the best investments a country has in front of them. These children are our future. Invest a little in their comfort and security, invest a little in their teachers, invest in their well being. Thank you for allowing me to comment.

Melvin 11 years ago

I am glad that john diedam has mentioned about investing in teachers and suitable mode of delivering education. I have worked in several countries in the past 25 years as curiculum developer and almost all educational authorities have always ignored the investing in teachers. One week in professional development for teachers is not going to bring the desired change because most of the teachers are et in their ways and are comfortable with the worksheets and other resources. An on-going mentoring programme, shadow coaching and team teaching will make the difference. Literacy and numeracy should become compulsory for all. hands on activities and making self interst , take home projects will keep the young minds buzzzing with excitement and they will stay on task for reasonable time. assessment of skills also need to be diversified. Curriculum needs to be more relavent to community needs. An imported education system is not going to help.