“Saudi Arabia is a completely different animal”

“Any preconceptions of Saudi Arabia should be left firmly by the wayside,” says Charlie Bowsher, Partner at MCG Talent

For years countries in the Middle East have sought solutions to the issue of the ‘brain drain’ – a term coined to explain how the young population were pursuing opportunities in both education and work overseas.

Recent data coming out of Saudi Arabia is incredibly positive and suggests that we are seeing a massive reversal in this trend, through sky-rocketing rental prices in Riyadh.

While in the UAE similar stories are rightly attributed to an influx of international expats – to assume the same in Saudi Arabia would be premature. The driving force is actually far closer to home.

These stats can be attributed to Saudi Nationals flocking, not abroad, but across the country for new opportunities.

We know this is true as for the roles we are recruiting for in Saudi Arabia, we are seeing a marked increase in applicants from around the country who are open to relocating to the major cities for work.

Saudi Arabia, as it is keen to let the world know, is not just Riyadh.

While ambitious giga-projects like Neom might take most of the headlines globally, it is important to remember that KSA is wildly different in its make-up from its closest comparator the UAE.

In the UAE, the two largest cities, the capital Abu Dhabi and Dubai, are less than an hours drive apart and connected by highway. We regularly place people who choose to live in one and commute to the other.

In KSA, the distance between the capital Riyadh, and the second largest city, Jeddah, is close to a ten hour drive and a two hour flight. The surface area of Saudi Arabia is more than Bahrain, Qatar, the UAE, Oman, Kuwait and Jordan combined.

While the population of the UAE is close to 9 million with the highest ratio of expats in the world at nearly 90 per cent, Saudi boasts 37 million citizens and a softer expat ratio of around 40 per cent.

It is a completely different animal to any of its neighbors and anyone looking to do business in the region would do well to brush up.

So what does this mean for firms looking to hire in Saudi Arabia?

Anyone engaged in hiring talent in the region would be foolish to ignore what we are witnessing and should tailor their approach to be receptive to talent nationally in KSA.

The last Saudi Census shows us that the population has exceeded 32 million people with a median age of 29, meaning 63 per cent of Saudi’s are under the age of 30.

A youthful and dynamic population, fueled by Saudisation initiatives and a strong nationalistic attitude towards their country’s ambitious agendas, are intersecting with a mounting attraction for multinational corporations to establish their regional headquarters in the area.

The scope of growth has also been helped by the phenomenal strides the country has made in the way of gender equality. The number of women in work is fast approaching 40 per cent of the workforce, having doubled over the past five years.

The landscape and social patterns of KSA are changing drastically. We are dealing with a young population who are increasingly mobile nationally in order to pursue their career-goals. 

This should be well received by businesses entering the region as there is a larger and incredibly active talent pool to choose from. 

The rest of the country is going to need to keep pace to keep up with these changes and cater to the growing demand.