Unless you have been living under a rock somewhere, you have definitely stumbled across a few phrases in the last year more times than you can count:
‘AI is going to take all our jobs’
‘So, is Covid still a thing?’
‘Where is Messi?’
However, my personal favorite and undoubtedly the understatement of the decade must be ‘Saudi is booming’. Just to emphasise how much of an understatement that is, the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) reported that KSA had the highest annual growth rate among the world’s 20 biggest economies in 2022, with a growth rate of 8.7 per cent and reflecting 4.8 per cent non-oil GDP growth fueled by private consumption investment in mega-projects.
As these projects dominate the headlines alongside the continued implementation of economic reforms and diversification plans, the changes on-ground are more visible than ever. If you aren’t witnessing it in person, you are surely hearing about it from colleagues or friends, are being exposed to the mammoth marketing campaigns, or at the very least consuming the plethora of ‘New Saudi’ related content that is taking over your social media feeds.
While this is all well and good, this sudden expansion begs the very valid question: how will businesses face the very real challenge of recruiting for the workforce that can keep up with the demands of such a massive and accelerated growth?
Anyone who has ever been involved in recruiting for roles in Saudi can attest to the fact that financial clout and stability do not render the country immune to the challenges that any other developing market would face, the first and foremost one being the shortage of skilled workers.
While this rapid transformation has created a high demand for specialised talent in tech, healthcare, engineering and even marketing, the unfortunate fact of the matter is that the local workforce has long been prominent in the services and government circles while such specialised roles have tended to be outsourced to expats.
Unfortunately, expats have long since set their base and stability in neighbouring UAE, Qatar and Europe, meaning that Saudi companies now face the challenge of either securing skilled expats through highly attractive financial packages, or by accelerating their investment in education and training programmes and initiatives for local talent. Whether that acceleration can keep up with the country’s business growth remains to be seen.
Another factor that may also have recruiters rubbing their temples is how to address the cultural differences that expatriate talent will likely face.
There is no question that diversity is a key asset to any market and any organisation, yet the fact is that recruiters need to also consider how certain cultural elements may hinder expat recruits such as language barriers, differences in standard work practices and even the importance of maintaining a localised voice and feel in the work you do.
While the Kingdom has done a fantastic job promoting cultural awareness and inclusivity, adaptation in any market takes time, and companies will need to take significant steps in creating a workplace environment where employees from diverse backgrounds can flourish.
Last but not least, one cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that Saudi Arabia is not the only market witnessing growth, and as such is not the only option for both Saudis and expats to settle in for employment purposes.
Qatar’s economy expanded by 4.8 per cent in 2022 (although admittedly skewed by their hosting of the FIFA World Cup, and can be expected to level out), while Oman is quietly edging forward with a 17.4 per cent rise in real estate investment from 2022, as well as a plan to publicly list 35 state-owned enterprises over the next 5 years.
Not fogetting that the UAE remains largely the most desired place to settle in for working professionals. With this in mind, Saudi-based recruiters will still face the challenge of competition from other markets which can position themselves as more immigration-friendly, with high potential for low cost-of-living, or simply a ’safe haven’ with established policies and procedures.
Ultimately, with massive change comes massive responsibility, and as a regional media and digital agency we acknowledge that recruiting for Saudi will not be an exception to the rule. There is no doubt that the Kingdom is on-track to become a business, tourist, culinary and creative powerhouse that will rival the current markets that lead the desirability index.
Yet like all good things, it will require the time and effort emerging markets need to thrive in their development, which we have moved towards with a localised internship programme in order to seamlessly integrate youth into this accelerated workforce.
Saudi is booming, and within that boom it will welcome AI, Web3, NFTs, the metaverse and the Covid debate. The only element it will miss out on is Lionel Messi.
By Ramy Mouganie, Clients Relationships Director at Fusion5