Not long ago, I got the opportunity to speak and meet a lot of interesting Saudi HR professionals at the ATD Conference in Riyadh. During those two days, I saw optimism spreading across KSA employers despite the Kingdom’s stagnant economy of recent years. The government has launched many transformational initiatives and policies since it has been in place. It recently even announced that state spending would be increased by 7 percent in 2019 – the highest budget to date – in an effort to spur economic growth and increase non-oil revenues. Perhaps all of these things are already sending a positive message to the private sector.
Many employers present at the event reported having a favorable economic outlook for 2019 and planning for higher recruitment numbers compared to last year. They also seemed to be more interested in employee engagement and there is a slow but steady shift in attitudes towards learning and development of Saudi talent. We surveyed these participants (see survey infographic below) to gain more insight on this and I wanted to share some of the highlights with you.
Hiring is on the rise: Saudization and Gender Diversity
78% of HR professionals report that their companies will hire as many people or more than they did last year. What the numbers don’t say however is how many of these hires will be Saudis. Despite Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s efforts to push Saudisation, unemployment remains high amongst KSA Nationals, but this year could be different. Saudisation is becoming more powerful and pervasive and the government has made a lot of restrictions when it comes to the sectors in which expats can work. It is also investing a lot to lower unemployment amongst Nationals. Just last month, the Kingdom’s Human Resources Development Fund launched a programme whereby it would pay 30% of certain private sector Saudi employees in their first year of employment.
Another encouraging trend we saw in the survey was the intention many companies have to hire women: 67% are planning to hire more female employees in 2019. This is likely the result of the government’s clear desire to encourage gender diversity in the workplace, which should play an important role in reducing the unemployment numbers, improving productivity and driving economic growth.
Employers are doing something about retention
Employee turnover has always been on the high side in KSA, both amongst expatriates and country Nationals, especially in the private sector. However, employers have started tackling the issue. As providers of talent assessment and development solutions, we see a rising number of organisations in the Kingdom actively looking for strategies to ensure their employees stay engaged.
According to the survey, 78% of companies conduct a form of engagement survey – this is a lot higher than it would have been a few years ago. And when it came to their HR priorities of 2019, succession planning as well as learning and development came out top of the list.
Graduate quality is improving
The survey also indicates that the quality of education has changed for the better. 36% of respondants felt that the quality of entry-level Saudi graduates was excellent and only 7% found it to be less than average. These are encouraging numbers, and it will be interesting to see how it evolves over time in order to reach Vision 2030’s goals in the education sector.
However, employers did identify an area where they’d like to see junior employees progress: soft skills. For instance, creativity, communication, the ability to work in teams as well as life skills such as being resilient, self-aware or having a growth mindset. This is a trend we are seeing everywhere, not just in the region – and it doesn’t just boil down to the educational system, but is also a result of the connected and fast-paced world we live in. Food for thought: a survey of by One Poll found that 65 percent of American Millenials don’t feel comfortable engaging with someone face-to-face, and 80 percent prefer conversing digitally. Luckily employers being confronted with new recruits who need to boost these skills are looking at ways to help them grow, such as well-designed graduate or employee training and development programmes.
It just takes time
It is maybe a little early to say that these improvements are all a result of the Kingdom’s efforts to achieve Vision 2030 – but the latter is probably one of the driving forces behind the current optimism. Massive change when it comes to a society can’t be made overnight, it takes years of well-orchestrated and sustained efforts that are initiated at the top and trickle down to all segments of society. But where economy, employment and education are concerned, I think KSA is on the right track.
Casper Hammer is the Commercial Director at The Talent Enterprise. With more than 15 years of human capital technology and assessment experience Casper brings an in-depth understanding of the talent challenges faced by organisations today. Casper’s priority and passion lies in helping business leaders transform their companies and reach optimum results though the company’s globally recognised assessment technology and solution.