Unemployment, like wars and natural disasters, requires solidarity amongst the people, and leadership from the state, for effective solutions. People must be courageous and sincere, and the state must be transparent, holding those responsible to account.
The royal decrees issued recently by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques have caused embarrassment for many. For example, Royal Decree Number 10 was highly embarrassing for the private sector, as it made references to patriotism, and the lack of Saudi nationals currently employed in private companies. The decree reads: “the Saudi private sector should undertake its national duty in this regard to the utmost extent, considering what its corporations have accomplished owing to the good fortune God has bestowed on our country. It is everybody’s duty now to pay attention to such a pressing national demand to raise the employment rates of Saudi nationals, and remind the private sector of its national duties in this regard.”
Following the issuance of 20 reformative and developmental Royal Decrees, the Jeddah Economic Forum highlighted the importance of such decrees, their impact, and timing, by disclosing that eight million jobs are currently occupied by expatriate workers, in a country with a population of 27 million. The forum emphasized the importance of transparency and the need to expose the real figures.
Let me give an example of an underdeveloped sector in the Kingdom, which promises to combat unemployment, but yet has a hazy vision of doing so: the industrial sector.
There are 23 industrial cities in Saudi Arabia, but not all of them are as famous as the industrial zones of al-Jabil and Yanbu. There are cities scattered all over the kingdom, some of which have taken over famous agricultural regions, such as Sedir, which is now a prospected car manufacturing center. The number of industrial cities in the Kingdom is expected to rise to 30 in the next few years, and organizers have emphasized that they will be constructed with the latest technology in mind. Trees have even been planted to reduce the impact upon the environment.
All great news without a doubt, but the simple question here is who will manage these cities? If the factories were administered by university graduates and academics, then the Kingdom could definitely become a competitive industrial state within ten years. I do not usually make such bold statements, but here I am aware of the exceptional work undertaken by the Ministry of Higher Education, and its development. Furthermore, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques’ Scholarship Program, which incorporates 100,000 male and female students, will be the cornerstone for higher education in the coming stage, and for a long time to come.
Unfortunately, however, factories all over the world are not operated by university graduates and academics, but rather by technicians.
In order to consider how an industrial country establishes itself, we only have to look at global examples, not only from the industrial world, but in previously underdeveloped countries which have decided to lay the foundation for an industrial future, beginning at the high school level.
In an industrial country there must be a stage preceding the construction of factories, and the planning of industrial cities. Industry requires a domestic educational foundation, so that factories do not turn into recruitment bureaus, bringing foreign workers into the kingdom.
There must be a strong push for technological education within the school system, and it should be part of a student’s options from an early stage, in the same manner that a pupil chooses from business or scientific subjects. Graduates must have the option of joining technical institutes, which specialize in the industries earmarked for the Kingdom’s newly constructed cities. Education should be the basis of vocational training, with strong emphasis on English language skills, and the ability to deal with new technologies.
Most importantly, for students, the future of this kind of education should seem promising and attractive. Industrial expertise is highly valued in the labor market, as we have seem with the US, Japan and South Korea, and even Malaysia in the near future.
There is no single equation to solve unemployment. Those responsible include the Ministry of Labor, which is burdened with problems, the Ministry of Civil Service, which has suddenly announced 156, 000 vacancies, and the private sector, where major firms display shortcomings when dealing with the rights of local and expatriate workers. God alone knows what is happening in the medium and smaller companies.
What we see today is that some state bodies, including the private sector, have their own philosophies in combating unemployment and enacting Saudization, which we usually hear in the form of statements, or read in newspapers from time to time. These philosophies are lacking in coordination, and are ultimately ineffective.
It is crucially important for major sectors of the state, along with representatives of the private sector, to present their visions regarding unemployment to a senior body such as the Supreme Economic Council. This will serve as a coordinative body to study such visions, and then develop a realistic, unified national plan. This plan should take global examples into account with regards to labor systems and policies to confront unemployment, even in the countries which today are suffering from soaring unemployment rates.
The main point to consider when of addressing unemployment is bridging the gap between idealisms and reality.
Both the public and private sectors will have to reevaluate their roles when they come to carry out the Royal Decrees, which have put them face to face with their national responsibilities to stabilize and develop the country. There will now be greater transparency and accountability, with society keeping a watchful eye.