What is the Saudi talent market like?

It's unmistakably ‘Saudi’, says MCG Talent's Charlie Bowsher.

It’s impossible to participate in any form of business discourse and not be aware of the speed and scale at which Saudi Arabia is evolving.

As the country hones in on its ambitious 2030 agenda, Saudi Arabia finds itself increasingly at the forefront of global discussions across sport, tourism and politics.

It shows no signs of letting go of that spotlight.

As Saudi Arabia evolves and modernises the job market has become increasingly competitive both for Saudi talent as well as international talent.

The competition is also no longer isolated to the region. We are regularly approached and now partnered with major firms headquartered in Europe and the US that are pushing expansion into Saudi Arabia.

In November of last year, Riyadh was reporting 98 per cent occupancy of prime office spaces.

Combine these factors with the attractive benefits the region offers (safety, tax-free living) and the geographical location (a gateway to both the East and West) and the talent process becomes fierce.

What does this mean for talent acquisition?

A streamlined process and a clear employee value proposition (EVP) are vital for anyone looking to secure talent – particularly local – for the following reasons:

Saudi Nationals are in very high demand.

The local government has implemented quotas that require firms to employ a certain number of Saudi Nationals. These are ambitious and failure to comply results in heavy fines.

In fields that aren’t typically pursued as traditional career paths – particularly relevant to the Marketing and Advertising space – these candidates become coveted and their opportunities are plentiful.

The latest KSA Census showed that the population had reached in excess of 32 million people with 63 per cent of Saudis under 30 years old.

As much as money plays a part among the young and nationalistic population entering the workforce in KSA, a strong EVP is becoming more and more important.

We are partnered with a number of start-ups and SMEs and I was surprised to hear that they have no issue in attracting Saudi talent fresh out of University.

Equity packages and the chance to be a part of something that grows over time into something potentially lucrative are proving more of an attractive offering to the younger generation than the lucrative salaries on offer by the Government or private sector.

Being able to communicate clear reasoning on both a short and long-term basis for why someone should join your organisation is a strong starting point for recruitment in KSA.

Our experience has also shown that the recruitment process must be tailored to reflect the unique conditions that working in this region affords.

A delicate balance must be struck when it comes to interview stages for example. Prolonged processes will be undercut by firms that are agile.

However, offering in 1-2 stage interview processes fails to secure the buy-in from candidates that will see them through to a start date and also risks not properly screening talent correctly.

An efficient process, measured and conducted within a suitable time frame is another vital pillar of recruiting in KSA.

On top of this, aftercare is crucial. This refers to the processes put in place to ensure a candidate is looked after post-acceptance of an offer.

While this is an often neglected part of the recruitment process, this is a lesson anyone who deals with talent in KSA will come to find out the hard way if ignored.

On my last visit, I met with a firm that had filled a ‘C level’ position four times without ever having a candidate start. Their offer had ultimately been used as leverage to secure another higher-paying role on four separate occasions.

To mitigate this risk, it’s vital that candidates are regularly contacted post-acceptance and the opportunity to meet face-to-face should be pursued wherever possible.

The standard Saudi notice period is two months, which leaves plenty of time for other offers and processes to persuade the individual to their side.

Knowing the landscape is also necessary, although this is probably more relevant for international firms. You would be surprised at how some enter the market, unaware of the responsibilities of hiring in KSA.

GOSI contribution (the equivalent of a pension) for Saudi National talent is a legal requirement and payable by the employer, on top of the salary.

It’s also quite common for an applicant’s parents to be sponsored by insurance plans which is very different from neighbouring countries like the UAE and Qatar which are expat-heavy and lack that obligation.

For international companies, we would also recommend the inclusion of Arabic speakers into the recruitment process if there is a need to evaluate portfolios.

This is particularly relevant in the creative sphere where a bulk of the work might be in Arabic.

Ultimately, the prospect of establishing a presence or growing in Saudi Arabia shouldn’t be seen as daunting but something to be embraced.

Where recruiting in the UAE carries a very international feel, thanks to the nearly 90 per cent expat population, recruiting in Saudi is unmistakably Saudi.

It is a culture unto itself and this means a cookie-cutter approach to recruitment, that might be relevant or workable in other countries, will not suffice here.

Utilising the above methods will give you a strong platform to commence a recruitment process and help put your company in good stead.

By Charlie Bowsher, Partner at MCG Talent