My previous piece about Saudi women waiting for jobs received comments from many people whose opinion I value. Some feedback suggested solutions, which I believe, will not lead to strong results. Others, however, may cause a positive shift in the labor market for Saudi women.
My pervious sentiments involve every woman and it is not only limited for the Saudi labor market but the entire region as unemployment is a persisting social, economic and political problem for every country in this region. Eventually, the government will be held accountable and responsible. We understand being able to reduce unemployment is closely tied with the available resources of each country which some states, such as Yemen and Egypt, struggle with. For example, the Egyptian government must provide three times the amount of food than the Saudi government for its people.
Progress, but with a long road ahead
My friend, Mohammad al-Aqeel, Jarir company chairman and expert on employment and labor issues, said there has been significant changes made by the Ministry of Labor in Saudi Arabia which has achieved position results so far.
“We can see the results on the ground, in our offices, and in the market in general.”
The Saudi Department of Statistics revealed figures that show a positive trend: male unemployment is just over 6%, which is acceptable. However, unemployment for women is at a scary level of 35%.
Our ambition is not just to find any job for every young man and woman, but rather to find useful and productive jobs, which can provide a flourishing lifestyle for Saudi citizens.Abdulrahman al-Rashed
Some, however, are skeptical about the interpretation of the statistics. They believe that these figures might be unreliable and misleading because there are large numbers of counterfeit registrations in the market in order to satisfy the terms of the ministries of labor and trade.
Experts also suspect that the methods through which statistics are obtained are weak, especially in the absence of taxes on people and companies, which would have given the government the ability to assess the income of all the residents, their job category and their spending patterns.
However, my main concern is not over figures. As long as there are unemployed youth and qualified women sitting at home, there is an urgent need to find solutions.
Our ambition is not just to find any job for every young man and woman, but rather to find useful and productive jobs, which can provide a flourishing lifestyle for Saudi citizens. There is a huge potential to build a market where the employee can earn more than a Singaporean citizen can earn in his country.
What will the Ministry of Labor do in the next three years when the 900,000 students graduate from over 24 Saudi universities? What will it do when more than 140,000 graduates from American, European and others universities come back home? It cannot tell them “your education is weak” or “you do not speak a second language!” It will not be able to give them a salary that is equivalent to their university allowance. Around a million graduates in three years means that what is coming next is more serious than the current situation: How are we going to face the tsunami?
I do not want to undermine the achievements of Labor Minister Adel Faqih, who has done far more than simply providing jobs. He has made changes in the culture and Saudi society and is correcting problems that have existed for decades.
Nevertheless, the problem of the anticipated 1 million job seekers is bigger than the minister’s task. I remain firm that there are many opportunities for creating a better job market in the coming years.
The potential for large scale solutions
The medical sector does not employ enough nationals, although it is a sector that qualifies employees well, engenders better national health culture and raises the income level of Saudis more than most other professions.
Moreover, the government can carry on the establishment of new institutions that are capable of employing many young graduates. For example, “Aramco”, “SABIC” and the “Saudi Arabian Airlines” are all successful government institutions and the great majority of their employees are Saudis. The banking sector has been “Saudized” and it is indeed the best banking system in the Arab market, but is also capable of employing many Saudi graduates.
The Saudi Government should build large institutions for technology, construction and various other specialized services which can provide employment opportunities.
Vocational and technical education will resolve half the problems but large institutions that can absorb all the unemployed with reasonable remuneration are needed. Education would remain insufficient without a large and organized job market that can protect its employees and raise the level of services.
Despite the daunting unemployment problem facing Saudi Arabia, I remain positive there is significant potential in the Kingdom for the country to absorb the unemployed.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Dec. 20, 2013
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.