GulfTalent.com’s survey of Saudi Arabia’s leading graduate employers is both surprising and expected. That joining the kingdom’s two giant energy companies Saudi Aramco and Saudi Basic Industries Corporation came out as the most popular career choice for graduates was of little surprise.

That many multinationals came out above state institutions such as the ministries of health, education and the interior was indeed surprising. International giants that feature in the top 10 employers of choice include oil services firm Schlumberger, consumer goods company Proctor & Gamble, and industrial giant GE.

The findings contradict the frequently cited disengagement of the kingdom’s youth and their reluctance to join the private sector and offer much hope for the future. The training and development offered by these multinationals were given as prime reasons for their popularity among graduates, along with the opportunity to travel abroad and engage in interesting and stimulating work.

As much as Saudi graduates do expect high starting salaries, they no longer aspire to paper push in a ministry. Exposure to the West through the media and study abroad programmes is helping to instil ambition in the kingdom’s youngsters. 

As Saudi Arabia looks to transition to a more diversified economy and grow its private sector it is this ambition that will help business leaders to emerge. Without it, the government will have to continue to rely on Saudisation initiatives that compel foreign firms to employ locals under threat of penalties, which typically benefit neither the company nor the employees. The findings offer hope that this will not always be necessary, the question is whether small-to-medium size businesses will be able to attract this talent as well.