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Why Saudis Abroad Are Missing Out: A Returning National Shares his Story
Sultan Khayat’s journey as a Saudi expat is a success story. A Boston University graduate with a Master’s degree in Administrative Studies, Khayat went on to build a seven-year career with the United Nations based in New York. Donning several roles such as representing Saudi Arabia at the UN on a myriad of issues from economic development to climate change, a UNDP fundraiser and a stint with Harvard startup ‘Cangrade’, after more than a decade, Khayat chose to return home to take his career journey forward.
We sat down with Sultan Khayat to understand what motivated his move back to Saudi Arabia. For Saudis considering a move back, we also gain his firsthand insights on how the Saudi workplace has evolved over the past couple of years.
You lived in the U.S. for 15 years. What were some of the factors that drove you to move back to Saudi Arabia?
In early 2018, with a project I was working on coming to a close, and observing the pace of development taking place in Saudi Arabia, I was confident it was the best time to move back home. Quite a few young Saudis were giving their career a new, exciting and challenging turn, taking on big roles in Saudi Arabia. Moreover, family being a very important pillar of the Saudi society, I was feeling an urge to live close to my parents after being away for almost 15 years.
For someone who has represented Saudi Arabia on several international platforms, how has the introduction of Vision 2030 contributed to changing the perception of the Kingdom?
It’s challenging to describe the impact that the Vision 2030 has already had in a few words, but in my opinion, the Vision was established to enable Saudi Arabia to be less dependent on oil revenues and diversify its economy. Also, such an initiative demonstrates the Kingdom’s willingness to be transparent; it is an opportunity to showcase our values, overcome the challenges we face and our problem-sloving capability through embracing innovation.
What are the top aspects of the Saudi workplace that have transformed in the past 3-5 years?
In the recent years, the Saudi economy is becoming lesser and lesser dependent on its oil revenues. In an effort to engage more young nationals into the economy, the government has rolled out several workplace initiatives that young Saudis are benefitting from. The ‘Saudization’ of the private sector for instance has played a big role in generating more opportunities for Saudis, right from entry level to senior management roles. Earlier this year, the government also announced financial incentives to motivate the hiring of nationals, aimed towards increasing the ratio of nationals to expats employed by companies. The Vision 2030 reform also seeks to increase women’s participation in the workforce – today women occupy roles, from entry level to CEO publicly listed companies. Young Saudi women have been appointed in senior government roles such as Ambassadors, Members of Consultative Assembly of Saudi Arabia, Vice Ministers, to name some. Today, we are witnessing increased competition between the Saudi public and private sectors to acquire the best talent possible.
What would you tell someone who may not yet be convinced about moving to Saudi as a lucrative career move? How would you convince them that it’s not a step back but a leap forward?
There are a lot of developments happening in the public and private sector, as well as the Saudi society as a whole. There are an increasing number of cultural, entertainment and sporting events being hosted in Saudi Arabia such as the Formula E, Dakar Rally 2020, soccer matches, Boxing, etc. (and Yes women can attend). Top artists from the international music scene took the stage at the Jeddah World Fest. Food festivals are bringing the best brands in fine-dining including the likes of Zuma, Nobu, Nurs-Et, Signor Sassi, Coya, to name a few. I believe Saudi Arabia has started competing with top destinations in the world on so many aspects and the future seems very promising.
The tourism sector is also growing aggressively. The public sector has launched different authorities to expand the scope of the work of government entities, with Saudis at the helm. The public sector jobs have become a lot more competitive in term of perks and benefits when compared to the private sector jobs. The Kingdom is opening its doors to international companies, and these companies appreciate the experiences of a Saudi national who has lived, studied and worked overseas and is accustomed to different cultures and traditions.
Are there any networks that Saudis can join when they move back home from overseas?
It depends which city you are relocating to, but there are a plethora of events and workshops happening in the major cities which are a great starting point for returning Saudi professionals. Also, depending on where you graduated from, alumni programs can help you meet people from the same country you lived in overseas who would share similar experiences as you.
The economic and social transformation in the Kingdom will have an impact not just for decades but for generations. Do you think this clarion call resonates with Saudi professionals encouraging them to return home?
One of the main pillars that will contribute to the success of the Vision depends on the engagement of the Saudi people. John F. Kennedy famously said: “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country,” which challenged Americans to contribute in some way towards the public good. Today, the Saudi government is working feverishly to accomplish this Vision, but we Saudi people have to play an active role on an individual level in helping our government execute the transformational promise of Vision 2030 successfully.
What do you think about the Saudi job market at the moment?
When compared to the US/European markets, Saudi Arabia is undoubtedly expanding its significance in the global market. It is not facing a recession or any major economic challenges, as some other regions and countries are. Nowadays, top talent and competent ambitious professionals are seeking job opportunities in the Kingdom. This fact, in and of itself, is a strong indication that the job market in Saudi is growing, progressing and healthy.
If, like Khayat, you would like to return home, the Michael Page Saudi Arabia team is here to help as part of our ongoing Benaa’ Al Watan campaign. Browse the Saudi Arabia jobs we are currently recruiting for and the team will be in touch.