The inability of many Saudi workers to communicate effectively in English is a major problem for construction companies in the kingdom, according to Sagar Batchu, general manager for Shapoorji Pallonji in Saudi Arabia.

“Institutions in Saudi Arabia are below par in producing a workforce that is capable of working in English alongside colleagues from Europe and the US. That is one of the biggest challenges facing companies here. These workers may have attained good skills, but there is an English barrier,” he told attendees at MEED’s Saudi Mega Transport & Infrastructure conference on 17 September. 

Two years ago Saudi Arabia introduced the Nitaqat programme, which offered incentives to companies hitting localisation targets and penalties for those that failed. The programme has been the source of much debate in the conference, with business leaders complaining that they struggle to find qualified locals to meet quotas and that few Saudi Arabians are willing to work in the construction sector.

Speaking on the same panel, Steven Miller, Senior Vice President at Shapoorji Pallonji, questioned whether there was enough skilled labour to work on all of the mega projects that have been launched in the kingdom. “If you look at the scale of the projects that they are they trying to build here, there is not enough skilled labour to meet demand,” he said. Miller called for the creation of vocational schools in the kingdom to provide job-related skills to Saudi Arabians.