‘We Woke Up’: Attitudes change as Saudi job market begins

After Munira completed her Islamic studies at a university in Riyadh, she returned to her parents’ home in Zulfi, a small town in the conservative heartland of Saudi Arabia, where the labor market supplies “men only.”

For several years, he sat idle, eager to return to the capital and get a job, but annoyed by his parents, who, like many conservative Saudis of the older generation, did not realize their daughter wanted to leave their family home. Employment

“I told them I had to give up, I couldn’t sit like this all my life,” Munira said. “For the first time [I told them] They said, no, why? We can give you money ‘. I said ‘I don’t want to spend my life like this, I’m not looking for marriage yet, I need more experience in my life’.

But her parents eventually repented and today, Munira, 28, works in a men’s clothing store in the capital and shares an apartment with her sister.

She is one of a growing number of women in the Conservative state, a trend that has helped change the face of retail in the capital’s ubiquitous malls and has been a real success in Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ambitious economic reform plan. In just four years, women’s participation in the labor force has almost doubled to 33 percent.

Understanding the paradox of the Brush Young Raj regime, the increasingly authoritarian government has relaxed many social restrictions on women, including allowing them to drive while encouraging them to work, and even detaining female workers as part of a wider crackdown on dissent.

Masked Saudi women work at a call center in Mecca © Fayez Noureddin / AFP Getty Images

Syngia Bianco, a fellow at the European Council for Foreign Relations, said it was important to tackle women’s employment in order to reduce the overall unemployment rate, as Prince Mohammed aims to reduce unemployment by 20 per cent. Other purposes

She said women have been identified as an important constituency for Prince Mohammed. “Even authoritarian royalty needs a constituency.”

Saudiization – exploiting the Saudis

For five years after Prince Mohammed launched his Vision 2030 reform plan, unemployment was above 12 per cent with Jeddah, while youth unemployment was over per per cent.

Economic growth was weak, the private sector arrested hundreds of princes and businessmen in anti-corruption campaigns, and the Marquel prince feared the uncertainty of the prince.

But growth has picked up since the economy contracted during the coronavirus epidemic, with Saudi unemployment falling to 11.3 percent in the second quarter of this year from 15.4 percent last year, the lowest level in a decade, according to the state’s general authority on statistics.

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This is partly due to the exodus of expatriates during the epidemic and the strict application of quotas on the number of Saudis that the company has to employ in many sectors. About 2 million foreign workers have left the state since 2017 as the government increased tariffs on them and their dependents.

Labor Minister Ahmed al-Razi said the government wanted to introduce new “Saudiization” quotas, but predicted that expatriates, who make up about one-third of the state’s 33-meter population, would remain in the same proportion of workers.

Faced with rising costs, Riyadh needs to balance Saudi jobs against the pressures of a private sector that relies on hiring low-paying, and often well-skilled expatriates for long periods of time. Razi said the problem is that Saudis are not finding jobs outside the state, but rather “finding the right people for the job, or avoiding crippling the private sector by not allowing expatriates.”

“We are limiting the number of expatriates, but there are not enough Saudis,” he said.

Foreigners still employ about per cent of the private sector. In retail, for example, where citizens now dominate the customer-facing side of many outlets, Saudis still represent only 2 percent of the total 40,000 employees.

‘Private sector needs to grow’

Saudi officials say they have suspended jobs in the civil service as part of an effort to shrink the public sector. But analysts say that so far it has been state-owned entities, including companies related to public investment funds and sovereign wealth funds, who are doing most of the recruitment work.

An instructor guides his trainees to a driving school for women in Dahran

A trainer guides his trainee to a driving school for women in Dhahran. Mohammed Al-Neymar / Bloomberg

“You can push them into the labor market, but the private sector needs to grow and the big question is: is it growing enough to recruit 150,000 or more entrants each year?” Says a Gulf expert

Some young Saudis still enjoy the older generation for traditionally preserved, well-paid state jobs. The oil heat of the 1970s enriched the desert country. That’s probably why Saudi participation fell slightly in the first two quarters of this year, from a high of 51.2 percent at the end of 2020 to 49.4 percent.

Gulf experts added, “Unemployment is not declining because of the growth of the private sector, or even because of the exodus of expatriates, but because labor force participation is declining because Saudis have stopped looking for jobs.”

Some still question the young Saudis’ commitment to the workers. At a Starbucks, a shift manager said his cafe had met its Saudiization quota by hiring two young Saudi women, but they doubted they would stay.

“It looks good from the outside, but when they come, it’s very difficult for them,” he said. “More than 10 Saudis have come and gone in the last two months.”

‘We Woke Up’

But Saudis work in shops and hotels; In supermarkets, cafes and as an Uber driver, the outlook of a nation is changing where half the population is under 25 years of age.

“You could say we woke up,” said Yusuf, a shift supervisor at a coffee shop, where three of the seven employees are Saudis. “We understand that we need to work and have more experience,” the 25-year-old added.

But the Riyadh-based academic warned that there is still a perception that there is less security in the private sector. “If you don’t have a good job, you can’t afford a house or an apartment, and if you can’t get married, you’re not part of Saudi society, because being married and having a family is inherent in the identity description,” she said. “This sector historically explains the choice of public sector positions.”

Fuel and fuel subsidies have been reduced and life has increased as VAT has tripled. And ARiyadh has become the focus of many of Prince Mohammed’s plans, with more people being forced to pick up sticks and move to the capital, where life can be costly.

Muhammad is one of many young Saudis who are now supplying their income by running an Uber. “If you want to get a good job, you need to move,” said Mohammed, who moved to the capital from the eastern province.

Still, Munira is rejoicing in his new freedom. “I want my own money, I want to do everything – freedom, now I feel it,” he said with a smile.

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