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Last Updated: Wednesday, 10 August 2005, 13:33 GMT 14:33 UK
Saudi Arabia's job market rethink
By Bethany Bell
BBC News, Riyadh

The new King of Saudi Arabia, Abdullah, has said one of his priorities is to deal with the problem of unemployment in the kingdom.

Saudi women walk out of a shopping mall in Riyadh
Shopping at the capital's malls is an expensive pastime
For many years, oil-rich Saudi Arabia did not have to worry about joblessness.

But now the population is growing rapidly and the wealth is being spread thinner.

Several million foreigners work in Saudi Arabia but the government is trying to replace them with Saudi workers.

But Saudis do not always want to accept the jobs on offer.

Yassin, 27, a hotel receptionist, is a pioneer - one of just a handful of Saudis working in the hotel industry.

Twenty years ago, in the boom period of oil wealth when millions of foreigners were hired to do the jobs the locals did not want to do, it would have been unthinkable to see a Saudi working in such a menial position.


And even now it is unusual. Yassin, the son of a farmer, says his friends made fun of him when he said he wanted to work in a hotel.

"They laughed at me the first time. But when they see me make money they change their minds," he said.

"I hope to be a big manager in this hotel. I am working on it. I am focusing on my job.

I try to make my managers very happy with me and try to do my best. I like to work in this industry - I like it."

The Saudi authorities would be encouraged by Yassin's attitude.

All of our young people would like to be managers, which is absolutely nonsense
Khaled Al-Maeena, Arab News editor-in-chief
They know the oil riches will not last forever and that the economy has to diversify. Meanwhile the number of school leavers - and unemployment - is rising.

At his palace in Riyadh, the governor of the city, Prince Salman bin Abdel Aziz, said the plans are in place to employ more Saudis in the job market.

It is a scheme known here as Saudi-isation.

"We have millions of foreign workers. We need to do two things to provide work opportunities," he said.

"One is to find appropriate jobs - and these are available - and the second is to qualify Saudi youth to work in all sectors of the kingdom."

Aiming too high?

That may be difficult. Many young Saudis have grown up in luxury, seeing their parents getting well paid, high status positions.

Other jobs - from builders to shopkeepers - were done by foreigners, mainly from Asia.

But these days, partly because of the very high birth-rate in Saudi Arabia, there are not enough good jobs to go round.

It is a fact young Saudis, such as 23-year-old Fariz, are reluctant to accept.

Saudi shopping mall
Young Saudis are now considering taking up menial jobs
Fariz, who graduated with an arts degree several months ago, likes to spend his evenings in a decadent coffee bar and nightclub in central Riyadh.

He has already turned down a number of job offers.

"I am waiting for a job - as a teacher. But I refused all offers so I need to wait my next job," he said.

Fariz can afford to wait - funded by the government's generous hand-out system for new graduates.

They receive up to $13,000 (7,250) when they finish studying - the money generated from Saudi Arabia's vast oil wealth. But in the long run, with the booming population, these pay-outs will be untenable.

Shopping sprees

Khaled Al-Maeena, editor-in-chief of the Arab News newspaper, says the unrealistic expectations of many young Saudis have to be controlled.

"All of our young people would like to be managers, which is absolutely nonsense," he said.

"People have to start somewhere. Everybody would like to go ahead, but if you instil the work ethics I think it would go a long way to alleviate our suffering - because we are suffering.

"What our people should do is to learn from others - we should take as a role model Singapore, Hong Kong, India, Korea - I think these are examples we can take."

It is not just men who are having to join the labour market.

A number of Saudi women have responded eagerly to the job opportunities that have opened up over the past few years. Some of them need the money.

But for some women from conservative families, there is no question of getting a job.

Manal, a wife and mother, says she enjoys spending time and money at one of Riyadh's most expensive shopping malls, the Mamlaka.

Many young Saudis have grown up expecting luxury as a matter of course. The question is whether they can get the jobs to pay for it in future.

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