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Saudi youth and work

Saudi youth and work

Arab News’ Saleh Al-Rasheed believes the current debate about Saudi youth employment is a clash between two cultures of Saudis—those who lived before the oil boom, and those born during the boom years.

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April 26, 2011 2:58 by



Saleh Kamel, chairman of the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI), unintentionally sparked a heated debate when he said, at a recent seminar, that Saudi youngsters are lazy when it comes to searching for work.

He claimed that Saudi youth always wanted a comfortable job behind a desk. Saleh Kamel drew attention to a study conducted by the JCCI, stating that Bangladeshi and Pakistani residents are controlling the Jeddah fruit market. The study pointed out that their daily earnings ranged from SR500 to SR1,000.

Saleh Kamel and other businessmen came under attack for saying this. The Saudi youth resented being called lazy. Instead, they accused the Saudi businessmen of not paying suitable salaries for young Saudis. A monthly salary of SR3,000, they said, is not enough to meet their expenses.

Here there is a clash between two cultures. The first consists of people who lived before the oil boom, and the second group, youngsters, was born during the boom years. Saleh Kamel’s culture was formed at a time when there was no oil wealth, while the youth culture was formed during an era of luxury. A clash between these two cultures was bound to happen in every Saudi household.

There are two things that caught my attention. The first is the idea of the low salary, which dominates the youth’s mind when they think of work. Most of the young men would rather sit at home than have a job for SR3,000 a month. It is logical, in my opinion, that a person earns a little at the early stage of his professional life, until he gains the needed experience. Then he can ask for a better salary. Let’s take the example of the world’s executives today: They all started with a very small salary and worked their way up through the years, while gaining more experience. Their salaries increased when they started to achieve things, resulting in their growing value in the labor market. Some of them started earning very high salaries because they knew what they gave and what to take.

I want to be more honest here with the Saudi youth, and to say more than what Saleh Kamel did. There are cases of businessmen hiring fresh graduates with high certificates, only to find out that they do not know how to write properly. They make the sort of mistakes you expect from students in the elementary stage. We could blame the education system, but we are not here to discuss that. What I want to ask our young men is: What do you have to offer the company or the institution you apply for to deserve a high salary? Mostly, such people will be a burden on the companies and institutions, who will suffer from the mistakes the employee makes because of lack of experience. They will teach him and give him money for it. They will give him the opportunity to grow. The employee, in his turn, will not hesitate to leave once he believes that he has gained enough experience. The majority of employees will play the only game they are good at: Bargain with the company they work for. Once they receive another job offer, they turn to the company where they learned the tricks of the job and start bargaining. They want a raise in salary or permission to leave.

The second thing I noticed is the clash between Saleh Kamel and the Saudi youth over the issue of working in the fruit market. This issue is also about working as a sales representative. If we looked at the amount of Saudis working as sales representatives in industrial and service sectors, we would find the number very little. The majority of them are non-Saudi, earning between SR6,000 and SR10,000 a month. For many Saudis, however, being a sales representative is not an attractive job, as they see it as a shameful profession. It is a job that requires fieldwork and a pressure they cannot bear. The limited culture prevented them from seeing that the richest man in the world is a sales representative. Indeed, a sales representative will not remain in the same position forever.  After many years, his professional path will take him to another level. I will stop here because I do not want the Saudi who is very calm to be angry with me.

First published in Arab News



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