Skills gaps risk 'holding back' Saudi Arabia

New research shows need for vocational education and on-the-job development

Almost three-quarters (73%) of Saudi employers expect their businesses to grow in the next five years – but skills gaps could put future growth at risk, according to new research from the City & Guilds Group.

The survey of over 500 Saudi HR professionals was conducted by magazine and HR community, Changeboard, and explored employers’ views on different aspects of skills development, such as skills gaps, the impact of Vision 2030 and expatriate workers.

The research showed that over half (53%) of the employers surveyed struggle to recruit and retain staff. Technical skills are the hardest to find (65% agreed), closely followed by leadership skills (62%). As a result, 56% said skills gaps make them less productive and more than a third (36%) have to rely heavily on consultants and outsourcing.

The challenge around skills gaps was reiterated by concerns around the value of traditional Higher Education routes. The majority of those surveyed (82%) recognised a disconnect between what is taught in Higher Education and the requirements of the job market.

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However, employers are keen to invest in training to meet their skills needs – 83% of employers would consider implementing vocational training into their skills development plans, and almost half (49%) would like to build stronger relationships with vocational training providers. With increased awareness this could be higher; a fifth (21%) of respondents admit they are not aware of vocational education and training.

The research comes as many employers consider how they will adapt their organisations to achieve the Government’s Vision 2030 ambitions to diversify the economy and develop the national workforce.

Of the employers surveyed, 80% recruit a mixture of national and expat workers with only 13% recruiting national only. Despite this, 81% would like to increase the number of nationals employed in their organisation and 86% of respondents expect to rely less on expat talent in the future – though 73% of employers said an international skills qualification/certification or a global standard for skills within industries would aid recruitment.

Commenting on the report findings, Chris Jones, Chief Executive of the City & Guilds Group said:

‘It’s really encouraging that employers are recognising the need for a highly skilled workforce but to make this a reality Saudi Arabia should try to harness future talent so that businesses have the skills they need to grow and be more productive. Half of the population is under-25 and that’s a huge opportunity. The Colleges of Excellence programme is a step in the right direction, yet skills gaps are holding back Saudi Arabia back, and there appears to be little confidence in the Higher Education system’s ability to prepare young people with the skills businesses need.

‘Vocational education and on-the-job development provide people with the work-ready skills employers desperately need, bridging that gap between education and employment. It’s time for employers to invest in skills development programmes, and work with training providers to develop high-quality technical education that is fit for purpose.’

Jim Carrick-Birtwell, Co-founder and CEO of Changeboard said:

‘This research highlights a disconnect between the kind of skills that are being developed among future talent in the Kingdom, and the skills employers are looking for – a challenge that is mirrored the world over.

‘However, it is encouraging to see the level of commitment from Saudi employers to investing in skills development, particularly among national workers, and subsequently contributing to the development of future talent in the Kingdom.

‘Core research projects like this are a foundation stone for building knowledge and developing insight for the region, and it is a real pleasure to partner with the City & Guilds Group who share Changeboard’s commitment to these aims. We welcome their commitment to putting resources into developing insight for the Kingdom.’

Khaled Sayoti, Chief Human Resources Officer, Pepsi-Cola Bugshan said:

‘The trend in Saudi Arabia is towards the requirement of both the governmental and private sectors to create action plans for executing Vision 2030, with King Salman’s human resources development strategy the main driver for this. Our ultimate goal is improving and enhancing employees’ performance and productivity. Training and skills development of new graduates in particular is vital to meet the requirements of the existing labour market.’

Further findings from the survey include:

  • 52% of employers offer dedicated careers development programmes for all workers.
  • 21% of respondents are not aware of vocational qualifications/training.
  • 30% of employers acknowledge they waste time due to missing skills within their workforce.

Find out more about the research now >

New report: Buidling the talent pipeline in Saudi Arabia