Tackling youth unemployment in Saudi Arabia

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The ambitious Saudisation programme aims to create 1.2 million new jobs for Saudi Arabia nationals in just two years. Claire Angus, AAT’s Assistant Director of Global Development, joined a technical and vocational training delegation visiting the country to find out more

I recently got the opportunity to travel to Saudi Arabia as part of a senior technical and vocational training delegation led by John Hayes, Minister of State for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning. I was inquisitive to learn more about the education landscape in Saudi.

I was quick to read up about the Saudisation programme and its vision to create 1.2 million new jobs for Saudi nationals by 2014. While the programme certainly sounded ambitious, I was keen to learn the pivotal role vocational and technical skills would play in helping reach the Saudisation programmes objectives.

Like many other parts of the world including the UK, Saudi is struggling with growing youth unemployment figures. This was heightened by a news story in the Financial Times. Youth unemployment had reached crisis levels around the world, with almost 13 per cent of the global youth labour force out of work this year, according to the International Labour Organisation. Saudi also has the added pressure of a large expatriate workforce (roughly 8 million) so the job market is undoubtedly competitive.

However, the government is keen to meet these targets and a rigorous process is in place to ensure companies comply. Companies that fail to meet targets and don’t employ the expected quota of Saudi nationals face losing renewals of work visas for their expatriate staff entirely. The programme is aimed at both Saudi men and women. Currently, women are mainly employed in education or health but the government is keen to widen the options available so they can train to work in other industries including finance.

Not only is youth unemployment affecting the country, but they also have a large influx of university graduates that are out of employment, not utilising their skills and qualifications.

Interestingly, the same issues that are discussed in the UK are also prevalent in Saudi. We know only too well that many employers believe that there is a large majority of university graduates that are not ready for the working world – lacking core working skills, the right attitude etc. As part of the Saudisation programme vocational and technical learning will help play a key role in giving university graduates new skills and tools to help enter the  job market.

During my visit, I was fortunate enough to meet a selection of women that will join the finance team ladies’ office at BAE systems. They had such exhilaration and passion for learning, and I was constantly made aware of how valuable vocational learning can be to suit individual and employer needs. Certainly within the finance and accountancy sector we know that on-the-job training has real benefits when applied directly in the workplace.

The government is investing heavily in order to ensure Saudi builds a more diversified economy. While the Saudisation programme has high targets to reach, the investment in lifelong learning through technical and vocational learning will prove fruitful as employers play a big hand in the training requirements they need for their businesses.

Naturally, any country that has growing youth unemployment statistics wants to put into place measures to address the problem. It will be interesting to see how well the incentives put in place to engage Saudi nationals work. More importantly, I’m eager to see how well vocational learning benefits the overall economy.

In this day and age, university education still sits on a pedestal but there remains the universal problem of too many graduates and a skills shortage in many industries (including finance, IT, and manufacturing to name a few).

With this in mind, I believe now more than ever technical and vocational education has a core purpose to address this widening gap and give people fundamental skills for life.

More information about AAT’s work outside of the UK is available online.

Claire Angus is AAT's former Assistant Director of Global Development.

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