Employment in Saudi Arabia - Risk and Reward

The GCC countries are unique in terms of their heavy dependence on manpower from other Asian countries like India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and the Philippines. About 60 – 70% of the workforce in the GCC countries comes from these nations. Historically most of these have been Blue Collar workers with most of the white collar jobs being occupied by expats from other Arabic speaking countries, Western Europe and the USA.

Over the past couple of decades a change has been taking place where the lower end of the white collar job spectrum has seen a slow and steady rise in the number of Indian, Filipino and Pakistani nationals. Sales, Accountancy, Supply Chain and Secretarial positions have seen a rise in the number of employees from these countries. The key advantages are

1.      English Language ability, which makes it easier for the UK /US nationals in top management to communicate with them.

2.      Superior technical skill sets, a result of the superior education systems in the home countries.

3.      Lower costs since

a.  Salaries are less compared to Arabs or Westerners

b. No “family status” is required for most, and this is not usually preferred by Arabs or Westerners .

Some GCC countries like the UAE or Bahrain have more liberal rules and processes which make it easier for expat employees to adapt and this has led to these locations being preferred. However, the industrial and economic powerhouse of the region is Saudi Arabia, which is also the largest country in the GCC with the biggest workforce by far. Saudi Arabia is regarded by most as a difficult country to live and work in, mainly due to the impression that it has a very rigid social and legal structure. I believe that it is down to the expat employee to adapt to the change and the faster he is able to do so, the greater the rewards.

Saudi Arabia has opportunities galore, and the heavily industrialized economy offers great options to expat employees from a country like India to earn twice or even thrice as much as they would in a comparable job back home, not to mention that it is still tax free!! The cost of living is very low as a percentage of income and this translates into the potential for saving a very large part of one’s earnings.

Unfortunately, most Indians who are well qualified and are working in good organizations in their home country consider it too “risky” to explore employment options in Saudi Arabia. Consequently, there is today a strange situation where most of the Indian workforce here, especially in higher blue collar or white collar jobs, are inferior in terms of talent and ability to those in comparable jobs back home but are earning much more!

The Saudi economy is going through a big change at the moment with the main staple, oil, not being as lucrative as before. The Saudi government has reacted to this and are trying to adapt by steering the economy in directions where the dependence on oil will reduce rapidly over the next decade. The private sector is being asked to shoulder a greater burden in the economic development of the country. This has led to a tightening of belts, and while the most visible sign of this is massive layoffs, the less apparent undercurrent is that there is now an increasing willingness to hire comparatively cheaper Indian talent to replace more expensive employees from the UK / US. Herein lies the great opportunity for qualified white collar professionals from India.

Employers recognize that they can get better talent from India than the mediocre caliber that they were used to, and the mediocre Indian talent that was taking advantage of the anomaly in the employment market in Saudi Arabia suddenly find themselves under pressure to perform or perish. This is how it should be and the greatest rewards should go to the best.

Now if only more strong Indian talent were willing to come out of their comfort zones…….

We invite your opnion on this - please do share your experience as it would be an informative source to many other candidates seeking employments in GCC



By Sarla Sharma

Pioneer Management Consultant Pvt Ltd

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