OPN_190412- Riyadh at night gener Saudi Arabi
Riyadh at night. There is still a high demand for expatriate workers with specialist skills and qualifications, particularly in sectors where the national workforce is less experienced. Image Credit: Agency

The Saudi government has stepped up its drive for Saudisation — officially known as “Nitaqat” — with its recent announcement that it aims to nationalise 14,000 jobs in the ICT sector. This statement follows the ban on foreign workers across 12 sectors last year, including banking, automobile showrooms and retail shops, as well as plans to reserve some jobs in the hospitality sector by the end of this year.

The government is also determined to start working towards the complete Saudisation of jobs in the tourism sector in 2020.

Saudisation is an admirable and ambitious initiative, launched by the government with the aim of cutting local unemployment levels, which have been struggling since 2018 and still stand at a worrying 12.5 per cent. However, with reports of a loss of 1.5 million expat jobs since the end of 2016, there are concerns that this exodus is denting consumer demand and could make the problem worse.

Furthermore, these figures also give the impression that opportunities for international talent are drying up when, in fact, the Saudi jobs market is currently one of the most exciting in the region for highly skilled expats, with lots of opportunities for candidates with the right credentials and experience.

Job creation is still there

Up to now, the roles most heavily impacted by Saudisation have been at the lower skilled end of the spectrum whereas, in contrast, there is still a high demand for expatriate workers with specialist skills and qualifications, particularly in sectors where the national workforce is less experienced. Figures show that new jobs in Saudi Arabia were up 111 per cent year-on-year in 2018, as government, semi-government and the private sector adjust to the shift away from reliance on oil, while planning for diversification and growth via the 2030 visionary plan.

Building foundations in sectors such as infrastructure, real estate and tourism takes time, and the necessary experience often doesn’t exist locally. Drawing on international talent is therefore frequently the only way to ensure that ambitious targets can be met.

Need for specialist skillsets

The so-called Giga Projects are one example of where huge amounts of highly specialised talent from more developed markets are needed, in roles spanning areas such as marketing and project management to marine biology to help manage fragile ecosystems on the Red Sea. Securing the best skills means looking internationally.

But bringing these specialists in doesn’t have to be a negative thing for the local population, who benefit from a vital skills and knowledge transfer in areas where they are most needed. Once that specialist expertise and passion is developed among local talent, it will mean more varied opportunities for Saudis in the future and a boost for the sustainability of the Saudisation agenda.

Competitive packages

Projects such as these and wider economic shifts mean employers are cherry-picking the best international talent in their respective fields, who ideally already have some knowledge of Saudi Arabia, and are looking to settle in the country for the medium to long-term, since longevity is so important. For those candidates who do fit the bill, Saudi Arabia is an attractive prospect, offering interesting and challenging roles, the opportunity to work on high-profile projects, not to mention highly competitive packages for relocation, high standards of living and a thriving expat community.

As a result, we are seeing more candidates relocate from the other Gulf markets to take advantage of the quality of the opportunities now available.

I would therefore urge strong candidates to look again at Saudi Arabia, if they are searching for their next career move in the region. While Saudisation is changing the make-up of the workforce, this only adds to the experience of working in the country, providing an opportunity to build your career within a diverse and rapidly changing environment, and pass on valuable skills to the local population.

Far from being extraneous to the Nitaqat agenda, talented expats are vital to ensuring its success.

Zahra Clark is Head of MENA at Tiger Recruitment.