Saudi Arabia stands at the cusp of significant change. The country’s economy is marching forward with steady, surefooted steps to fulfill the goals outlined in Vision 2030. The blueprint for Saudi Arabia’s economic diversification aims to make the country less reliant on oil revenues. The robust development planning and strategy from Vision 2030 will create several sunrise sectors that can power the country forward beyond 2030. But to turn this vision into reality, Saudi Arabia needs the right talent. 

Michael Page hosted a webinar titled ‘Saudi Arabia: Business Outlook and Opportunities in 2022’ in which four influential business leaders took stock of the country’s progress towards Vision 2030, and the status of important industries like tourism, technology, healthcare and supply chain. The guests shared valuable insights on the post-pandemic recovery, market opportunities in 2022, and what this all means for Saudi Arabia’s thriving job market.  

Saudi Arabia’s response to the pandemic

Saudi Arabia was proactive in taking precautionary decisions and preventive measures early on when the Covid pandemic erupted in January, 2020. The rapid response can be put down to the country’s accumulated experience in ensuring the safety and security of its citizens and visitors, which Saudi Arabia practices every year when organizing the Hajj and Umrah Islamic pilgrimages.  

Samar Nassar, Director – Healthcare, KPMG, who has over 20 years of experience in the healthcare industry, boiled down the country’s response to the pandemic to four pillars. She says, “The first pillar was the kickoff of the National Command Centre in January 2020, to oversee all Covid-related happenings and get the big picture. The second pillar was to leverage digital capabilities. In KPMG, we call this the Digital Front Door. This enabled early symptom checks, scaling virtual consultations, and contact tracing and monitoring. The third pillar was active public engagement by the government to curb the conspiracy theories and fake news about the virus and vaccines. The fourth pillar was about managing the surge with expanding the healthcare capacity at both the primary level and also the hospital level. This included fever clinics, the mass testing program, and scaling the national laboratories to anticipate the surge.”

All of this planning and preparation took place from January 2020 until the third quarter of the year. With Q4 came the preparations to launch the vaccine program. In mid-December 2020, the vaccine program was launched. Today, more than 70% of the population is covered with two doses of the vaccine. A total of 47 million vaccines have been administered.

Samar says that the importance of trained workforce became more apparent during the pandemic. Also, it helped that the country already had a healthcare sector transformation program in place. “The pandemic really made the Vision 2030 transformation that we are undergoing more relevant but it did not change our goals,” she says.

Hopping on to the tourism flight 

Saudi Arabia has great ambition and aspirations to develop the country’s non-religious tourism sector. “The country currently attracts 5.5 million tourists a year, of which 2 million are international visitors. The aim is to attract 75 million tourists a year by 2030, of which 60% will be international. The ecosystem that is being developed around tourism is phenomenal,” says Sanjay Patney, Marketing Director, Qiddiya. 

Saudi Tourism Authority (STA) has been working on many giga projects to reach this goal. A number of companies are either tying up with STA or setting up their own DMOs – destination marketing organizations or destination management offices.  

There are many projects to boost the tourism ecosystem. Riyadh Season, a five-month entertainment and cultural extravaganza, is one such. “Almost 40% of the entire tourism inflow into the kingdom is expected into Riyadh. So, Riyadh is being developed as a top 10 livable city by 2030,” says Sanjay. “Tourism is expected to contribute almost 45% to the country's GDP by 2030, which is a phenomenal $180 billion.

Tourism has a great role to play in the economy,” he adds.

Learnings from driving change 

The pandemic forced us to deal with unprecedented levels of change and ambiguity at the country level. Federico Mariscotti, VP – Supply Chain & Advanced Analytics, Kearney, has helped many clients chart a long-term future through innovation. He shares the learnings that have come to him from driving change. 

Federico talks about that most essential of human qualities – to stay humble when adapting to change.

Secondly, he says that Saudi Arabia has, almost, a fixation with benchmarks for the investing class. “These benchmarks may have been relevant many years ago.” Third, decide if you are a leader or follower. Sometimes, we are not given an option. Fourth, “Don’t look for references, because what you are trying to do hasn’t been done before. The references don’t exist.” 

When talking about talent, Federico says that companies need to get broader with targeting the capabilities. “The best workers are those that are willing to co-create with you, to adjust and do something together with you. You need a travel companion more than a business partner,” he says. 

The whirring startup machine

Saudi Arabia is on an upward trend of a vibrant startup ecosystem with a good amount of funding inflow for startups. “Saudi Arabia tops the list of three fastest growing startups in the media sector in the region. Vision 2030 aims to increase the startups’ contribution to the country’s GDP from the current 20% to 35% by 2030,” says Zainab Alamin, VP – Digital Transformation, Microsoft Saudi Arabia. 

She adds that the investment in startups is slated to grow from $50 million in 2018 to $500 million by 2025, with a lot of this already close to being achieved. The government has also created a stimulus of $1 billion for industrial startups. These funds are expected to increase to $20 billion by 2030. Much of this investment is being used in the space of digital transformation with a focus on FinTech, digital payments and credit scoring. “Saudi Arabia is in a good place where it has the funding regulation and the startups to achieve an enriching ecosystem,” says Zainab. 

Emerging trends in healthcare 

Samar outlines the top trends that will continue to change and impact the healthcare industry. The first is the scaling of primary healthcare centres, making them more efficient and robust. The second is virtual consultations, which increases access to care and also will rely on team-based care, where patients can depend on a panel (not individual) of doctors for the right diagnosis and treatment. Thirdly, technology will be used more extensively for home testing, remote monitoring and for wearables.

“Data, technology and AI will be wrapped around all these trends underpinned by TeleHealth,” says Samar.

She further states, “Talent will be crucial for all these changes. Upskilling of healthcare professionals will no longer be just about a doctor. It is also about training the technician and a nurse. We need to bundle that with strong digital offerings to bridge the gap.” 

Supply chain disruptions 

The Covid pandemic drew every nation’s attention to the importance of building a resilient local supply chain, especially those industries at the forefront of making advancements locally. Globally, every country talked of shortening the supply chain and making it more local. There are four main ingredients to conduct business: people, assets, capital and supplies. “In Saudi Arabia, we had to disrupt the source of these four. Ideally, we wanted capital to be local. Different industries found their own different best solutions to disrupt but the result was a combination of local and outsourcing,” explains Federico. 

“When it comes to supply chain disruption, the pandemic really hasn’t brought anything new. In terms of the elemental challenges of running a supply chain, Saudi Arabia was already creating enough self-induced, positive disruption through its Vision 2030. There were already enough moving parts and enough certainty to cope with, that the pandemic didn’t add a new element,” says Federico. He says that the country was still finding capital, and it was still doing everything that it was doing before the pandemic. 

Federico cites the example of two industries that cope with uncertainty well, and should be used as teachers. The first is the military. Since they are experts in scenario planning, they are good at reacting. The second is the food industry and the food security companies, which also are good at scenario planning and reserves planning. 

Talent in the world of marketing 

Saudi Arabia reserves 30% of marketing jobs to Saudi nationals. Sanjay feels that this is a step in the right direction as local talent must be grown and enhanced. Expatriates must embrace this effort by the government, he says. 

Sanjay says that he does not see skill gaps but many skill opportunities in Saudi Arabia. “In 2019, the tourism sector created 54,000 jobs in the kingdom. By 2030, the anticipation is that this number will grow to 1.2 million jobs.”

There are three broad categories that are expected to create a surfeit of jobs between now and 2026-27. “The first is in brand management and marketing & communication. The second is in digital transformation to tap into the huge digital engagement in the country. Saudi Arabia has a smartphone penetration rate of 94%. The average consumer spends 3.45 hours per day on social media. Digital growth and marketing are bound to rise. The third is opportunities in data, data analytics, AI, etc.,” says Sanjay. 

Upskilling young Saudi talent

Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Information and Social Communication launched an event focused on digital and skilling initiatives. Microsoft announced two initiatives during this event. The first is Microsoft Innovation Centre, which focuses on skilling open source and supporting and empowering programmers and developers to code with the best available technologies. 

The second is the Imagine Academy, which trains individuals in four areas: infrastructure and cloud productivity tools, computer science & coding, data, AI and analytics. “All of these initiatives had participants in huge numbers, proving the opportunity to develop talent in these areas,” says Zainab. 

Skill gap in supply chain

Supply chain is a high-growth industry, and faces a gap in skills and talent. “The reason for the gap is two-fold. The first is that very few schools, globally, are focused on teaching the art and science of procurement and supply chain. Many interested companies send their employees to train in the US and UK to bridge the skills gap. At the university level, students may not even know that such a profession is a viable option. This gap has affected Saudi Arabia more than other countries because of the need,” explains Federico. 

The second reason for the gap is the lack of appropriate branding for supply chains as needing intellectual curiosity to progress. The role demands that one understand geopolitics, demographics, consumer behaviour and future trends. But supply chain is not branded correctly to include all these aspects of the business. 

Hiring the right talent for the right role

The Saudi Arabian economy is fast-paced and constantly evolving, thus creating a dynamic hiring environment. “PageGroup is ready to meet the challenge of hiring the right people for the right roles. Our Saudi Arabia practice expands to all our verticals, which include finance, technology, marketing, sales, strategy, procurement, supply chain and real estate,” says Domenic Falzarano, Regional Director, Michael Page, Saudi Arabia. 

PageGroup supports our clients on large RPO campaigns under our Page Outsourcing brand. The premier recruitment agency also provides senior executive searches through the Page Executive brand. “With a large global network, regional market presence and a strong local understanding of the Saudi market, we are able to connect businesses with the right professionals,” says Domenic.

Diversity is a huge changed reality in Saudi Arabia’s business environment today. Increasingly, women are entering the workforce in large numbers. “When I started work in 2002, I used to sit in the female section behind a partition. It is refreshing to see now that more women are doing jobs that they didn’t earlier take on,” says Samar. 

Saudi Arabia is embracing change in every way. Time has presented it with an opportunity and the country is ready for the forward leap.  

You can also watch the webinar recording. Hiring managers can learn more about our Saudi Arabia recruitment services. Candidates looking for career opportunities in the Kingdom can browse and apply for jobs in the Kingdom that we are currently recruiting for. 

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