Skills gap: Training young people with the skills to meet the needs of today’s labour market

Bridging the gap between university and employment, and translating potential into a skill set that is in demand is a challenge faced by graduates all over the world. The OECD reports that 20% of people aged 20-24 are not employed, in school or in training. In Saudi Arabia 36.6% of this age group was unemployed in 2014, according to the “Saudi Economic Report 2014” by the Ministry of Economy and Planning (MEP).

Unemployed Graduates

According to data from the General Authority for Statistics (GaStat), the labour force grew by 1.8% in the second quarter of 2016. However, the unemployment rate among Saudis aged 15 years and above remained stable at 11.6% year-on-year. This represents a slight increase when compared to the second half of 2015, where unemployment was registered at 11.5%. However, the unemployment rate within the population aged 15 years and above was 5.6%, and this figure showed no increase when compared to the second half of 2015. Approximately 65% of the Saudi labour force was aged between 20-39 years in mid-2016, and 36% of this group held a bachelor’s degree.

The GaStat figures showed that a total of 657,936 individuals – 35.9% of whom were male and 64.1% female – were unemployed during the second quarter of 2016. Approximately 39% of unemployed Saudis were aged between 25 and 29 years, while the percentage of economically inactive Saudis who held a bachelor’s degree was recorded to be 54%.

Modern Roles

Although private sector employment is typically characterised as unskilled and poorly paid, there are white-collar jobs in Saudi businesses with potentially high earnings that are filled by expatriate staff. In 2015 Jadwa Investment reported a net fall in employment of Saudis in information and communication, and in finance, of 16,000 and 11,000, respectively. Steps are being taken to give Saudi graduates the additional skills they require to work in both sectors. The King Salman Education for Employment Programme at Prince Sultan University offers male and female graduates courses in internationally recognised technology platforms, such as Cisco, Oracle, Microsoft, Juniper, Huawei and SAP, and they have had great success. “In the past in the UK or the US, knowledge might be passed down in the workplace during apprenticeships, but now we have everyone, from government departments to businesses large and small, using global technologies to run their operations, making it essential for people to know how to use whatever hardware, software or process is involved,” Andrew Conder, the programme’s project manager, told OBG. Those ICT skills are also a significant focus for staff development in the public sector, where the Institute of Public Administration (IPA) runs all training. “When people hear IPA they may not think of technology, but 35% of the programmes we provide are in IT areas,” Bander Alsajjan, deputy director-general of development and quality at the IPA, told OBG. “ICT makes government more efficient, it reduces corruption and it makes clients happy.”

The Institute of Finance has been working with the Human Resource Development Fund to help Saudi graduates pursue careers in its sector by providing e-learning resources to support them in taking professional qualifications. “The government is continuing to invest in Saudi Arabia but, given the low oil prices, they are focusing on priority projects,” Fahad Aldossari, deputy governor for administration of the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority, told OBG.

Soft Skills 

Private companies are also playing a key role in helping graduates acquire the general professional skills and attitudes they will need in the wider workplace. “The building of sector-specific academics is good for the development of technical skills, but they don’t really address soft skills,” Youssef Al Buthi, the CEO of local HR development company Tonofa, told OBG. “This is the area where private sector HR development companies can step in and fill the gap.”