Decoding Middle-East Job Trends: Should You Consider Working In Saudi Arabia?

March 11, 2024 hr-hrobserver-SaudiArabia-KSA

Saudi Arabia is a place that is often talked about, but little understood. The country, the largest economy in the Middle East and with a population that today exceeds 35 million people, dominates the economic landscape. And yet, it has proved to be a challenge to attract people to work in the Kingdom.

I have had the fortune to know the country and its people for several decades. I have grown to love the generosity of the many Saudis I am honored to call friends, and love their sense of humor and playfulness.

At the same time, I do understand the pull of other markets in the Gulf, which is where most foreigners want to head to. 

If you are going to live in the Kingdom, you will be an expat in every sense of the word. There is a strong culture here and a religion that defines everyone’s daily lives. The Kingdom’s geography is incredibly diverse; half the size of Western Europe, Saudi Arabia enjoys desert vistas, mountain ranges, turquoise water and coral reefs that have to be seen to be believed. We have always enjoyed the weekend drives into the countryside, to see all that the Kingdom has to offer.

Let me be blunt however and say I didn’t come here just for the desert retreats and the beachside holidays. I came here several times for work. I was drawn to the Kingdom, to the challenges that you will find here. Today, this is a country that is ambitious, full of energy and hope, and which is working with passion to make its vision come true.

You see this with the scale of everything that is done here (does any other country use the word gigaproject?), and the speed at which they want to do it. What is more, Saudi Arabia has both the means and the will to make these dreams become reality. For example, look at Red Sea Global or Diriyah; in the space of a couple of years the country has built world-class facilities for tourism that would be the envy of any other country. 

While the work is rewarding, the pace is unmatched. I have worked across the region for over two decades, and I have never seen a desire to move faster or work to deadlines that seem unrealistic.

Yet, these targets are often being met. Take the example of tourist numbers – over 100 million visitors was the goal by 2030; that number has already been met by January 2024. So there is an aspect of travel.

What is also enriching is to work alongside so many talented Saudis. It used to be thought that the government was where the nationals would work, and the expats would be in the private sector. Today, you will work side by side with young, smart and hard-working Saudis, many of whom have studied abroad and who are hungry to prove themselves. This is a new experience for many, including expats who have been in the Gulf for some time, and it’s exhilarating to work with young people who are so driven (particularly Saudi women, whom I have often found to be remarkable in the abilities and work ethic).

It is an understatement to say that the Kingdom is changing, and changing at a pace that I have never seen anywhere before. I remember working in Saudi Arabia prior to 2016, when Saudi Vision 2030 was launched. The pace of work could be fast, but societal change was gradual. 

Today, everything is changing, at speed. Take for example, sports. The country is attracting global stars and global events, and the planning and quality of these spectacles is second to none. It is the same for fine dining, and for cultural activities. Every part of society is changing, transforming, it can be daunting. I remember walking around Boulevard World, one of the largest open-air entertainment venues in Riyadh, and marveling at how it could be built in the space of nine months. It is exciting to be living through these changes, and seeing how Saudi society is not only changing but embracing this shift.

As with anything, there are challenges. The infrastructure of the cities are feeling the strain of the traffic and a short journey can often be double what was planned for. The hope is that public transportation will ease these growing pains, especially a metro for Riyadh which is huge in scope. Will the Saudi public welcome this new mode of transport? For all of our sakes, I certainly hope so.

There is also the issue of where to live and go to school. Despite its size and importance, Riyadh has often only acted as a country office for most multinationals. That today is changing, and along with all of the expats heading into the country to work on Saudi’s gigaprojects, there is an undersupply of housing for people wishing to make the move.

Rents are high, and places can be tricky to come by for your preferred schools. Both are priorities for the authorities, but while houses can be built fairly quickly, I had expect it will take longer for more schools to be opened (I very much hope I am wrong).

This is a unique time to be in the Kingdom, and I expect the excitement and pace to only become more intense as we approach 2030, which is not only the deadline for the Kingdom’s first master plan but also the date for Riyadh Expo 2030, followed by the FIFA World Cup in 2034. The Kingdom is opening up to the world, and if you are truly looking for an adventure I’d advise you strongly to consider coming to Saudi Arabia. There’s nowhere more interesting to be right now.

My one piece of advice to anyone considering an expat assignment is that you will get out what you put in, and if you spend the time learning about the country, the religion, the language and the culture, the Saudi people will welcome you with open arms. The choice is yours to make. 

Alex Malouf

Board Member, PRCA MENA

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