Monday, March 21, 2005

Saudization? Yes, but ...

Admitting the existence of a problem is the first step towards fixing it. In Saudi Arabia, we have a large and worsening unemployment problem. Two thirds of the population is under thirty with over 60 percent born after the 1991 Gulf War. Too many high school and college graduates can’t find suitable jobs and Saudis are still a minority in the private sector.
The first question that comes to mind is: How come we have seven million expatriates yet have an unemployment rate (males only, worse for women) estimated between 8-30 percent (depending on whom you ask and how you calculate)?
The solution, so far, has been Saudization — foreigners out, Saudis in. The trouble is we are dealing with only the symptoms; the disease lingers.
Let’s face it, our kids are not trained well enough for the real world. They study more theories than science; learn to memorize, but not to research; sit in class more than in labs, workshops and libraries; and speak barely more than Arabic.
When they enter the job market, they discover how poorly prepared they are.
State departments cannot take all the made-for-easy-chair graduates, so we throw them on the private sector in forced employment programs.
That is not fair to both sides. We should work on our education for the longer term.
In the meantime, we need practical training for school graduates. Both the state and private sector should set up enough training facilities to provide for all their needs, such as computer skills and foreign languages, especially English.
We need also to solve business’ concerns.
They complain about uncommitted workers and unhelpful regulations. You hire a manager today but tomorrow he leaves for a better job. Your shop is suddenly closed, since the person you trained, hired, and gave all your trade secrets to had a better offer from your competitor.
The young man hired to run your jewelry shop runs away with millions worth of diamond and gold. You run to the authorities and they ask you to bring him over yourself. And if you are lucky and bold enough to do so, they release him the next day on bail and direct you to overloaded courts.
Businessmen and women need and deserve better guarantees; after all they are Saudis, too.
These are simple solutions. My favorite idea is to increase the circle rather than limit the dancers. How? Let’s talk about it next Sunday.

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