Senior engineering officials from Saudi Arabia have called on the kingdom to emulate South Korea in regards to building a strong domestic engineering, procurement and construction (EPC)contracting industry.

Speaking at the Saudi Arabian EPC Projects 2011 currently being held in Al-Khobar in the Eastern Province, the officials said that they wanted to develop a strong local contracting sector that relies more on local talent.

“In the 1970s, South Korea was at the same place [Saudi Arabia] is now,” said Abdulrahman Al-Rabaie, former chairman of the Saudi Council of Engineers. “We need to look at what they did and try and incorporate a similar strategy here. The government wants this to happen so the only question is how fast it happens.”

We need to look at what they did and try and incorporate a similar strategy [in Saudi Arabia]

Abdulrahman Al-Rabaie, Saudi Council of Engineers

Al-Rabaie’s comments were backed up by Mohammed Elfosi, director of the local Arabian Consulting Engineering Centre, who said that the impetus needs to come from oil and gas and then move into other vital sectors such as power and water, but other factors also played a role.

“When you look at how much countries like Japan, South Korea and China spend on research and development in engineering, it is far greater than what Saudi Arabia spends,” Elfosi said. “We need to catch up in this regard and when we do we will see more local talent emerge.”

However, Ian Murray, director of business development at the US’ Fluor, admitted that less than 10 per cent of the engineers at his company were local, but stressed that this was the case with all of Fluor’s rivals.

“Availability is the problem here and a lot of young Saudis are still what you would call in development,” Murray said.  “There is a massive demand across every sector for the Saudi graduates coming out of universities so this will take time to implement. Time will solve the problem and I think over the next five years, Saudisation will move more quickly.”

The Saudi Arabian EPC Projects conference is running between May 10-11.