Kingdom boosts employment drive

05 April 2002

The government is accelerating the pace of its Saudi-isation programme with the launch of a scheme to encourage employers to look more closely at Saudi job applicants and further proposals to restrict the use of foreign labour for jobs that could be done by nationals. The launch of the Manpower Development Fund (MDF) and the proposal of laws to increase the number of positions open only to Saudi Arabian citizens have come about against the background of rising unemployment in the kingdom (MEED 1:3:02, Cover Story).

MDF, which was launched on 1 April, will subsidise the training of Saudis by SR 1,500 ($400) a month for two years, and by SR 2,000 ($533) for their first year of subsequent employment. Local businesses have welcomed the initiative. 'I hope this will significantly add to our ability to attract and retain Saudis,' says Adib al-Zamil, finance director at AH Al-Zamil Group. 'This will give our existing training programme a different platform, which will allow us to move at twice the speed we could achieve before. It is also important to understand that the new fund can be used by companies to start their own in-house training programmes.'

The fund is to be part-financed by the higher cost of expatriate work permits and visas. Muhammed al-Sahlawi, the head of MDF, said on 1 April that he expected to see 10,000 jobs created this year and 100,000 created in the next five years as a result of the fund. Managers of local companies say the first two years of employment are the most difficult for new workers, many of whom need extensive education in corporate culture. 'The intention to facilitate job-skills training for Saudis is clearly positive,' says Brad Bourland, chief economist at Saudi American Bank (Samba).

The government is also examining the introduction of stricter controls on foreign labour to boost the number of jobs open to Saudi nationals. 'We are studying, through a special working team, expanding the barred jobs as part of the country's plan to replace the expatriate labour with Saudis gradually to ensure jobs for our people,' said Labour & Social Affairs Minister Ali bin Ibrahim al-Namla in late March. More expatriates now hold jobs in the kingdom than Saudi nationals.

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