Official: KSA construction boom needs more Saudis

Saudi pushes to train and employ more locals for senior project roles

KSA's ministry of labour wants to see more Saudis in construction jobs.
KSA's ministry of labour wants to see more Saudis in construction jobs.

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Saudi Arabia is to boost the number of locals working in the construction sector with a new initiative under its Nitaqat, or Saudisation, programme, a ministry of labour senior official has said.

Speaking during a seminar organised by the Centre for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies, Muhammad Ikhawan, adviser to the minister of labour, unveiled the ministry’s plans to tap into the vast employment opportunities in the Kingdom’s booming construction sector for jobless Saudis

“Saudi youths are generally averse to taking up construction jobs on sites. If these youths are provided with opportunities to build components or units of buildings at factories and then assemble them on sites, they will definitely come forward to take up such jobs,” he said.

The Nitaqat system was introduced in 2011 and specifies the numbers of Saudis that must be employed by private sector businesses. The system classifies companies in to three zones: green, for those who comply with the targets set; yellow, for those who need to improve; and red, for those who aren’t meeting targets at all.

Sanctions include a prohibition on new work visas, and the refusal of officials to allow a new branch office of the Red zone company to be established. Currently, construction firms are required to have 5%

The system has also been complicated with the introduction of the Hafiz system alongside Nitaqat, which entitles Saudi jobseekers to a monthly allowance of SAR2,000 ($530). That, according to one contractor who wished to remain anonymous, means that Saudis won’t accept jobs for less that SAR2,000 a month – which is more than he pays his ex-pat workers.

According to one report, foreign born labourers earn around SAR700 ($190) a month, while another report, compiled by the US Department of State pegged the unofficial private sector minimum wage for citizens at SAR1,500 ($400) per month.

Ikhawan told the audience the ministry is giving top priority to address the unemployment problem. “The latest official statistical figures showed that there are 500,000 jobless Saudis. However, the number of young Saudi men and women who applied for Hafiz unemployment assistance reached 1.5 million,” he said.

Ikhawan also said that while cheap foreign labour was a leading cause of Saudi’s unemployment, he also said that “the academic and professional incompetence of Saudi graduates to take up various trades and their inability to compete with foreigners is the second major factor.”

KSA’s current construction boom is aggravating that, he said.

“The Kingdom lacks qualified Saudis to fill the huge number of job opportunities in the real estate and construction sectors after the government started implementing mega infrastructure projects in various regions. This forces the authorities concerned to hire foreign labour to carry out the projects on time,” Ikahawan said.
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Saudi Arabia currently has six million foreign workers throughout the Kingdom. Ikhawan said, “The ministry is striving to implement a strategy based on gradual replacement of the foreign work force with Saudis. We are also keen on providing education and training to young Saudis in a way enabling them to take up jobs in the employment market.”

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