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For each Saudi Arab there are two jobs

By Special to The Christian Science Monitor / July 17, 1981

Dhahran, Saudi Arabia

For every two jobs in Saudi Arabia there is one Saudi Arab available to fill them. Reducing that margin presents one of the Kingdom's most serious development challenges in the 1980s.

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Fueled by enormous infrastructure and industrial diversification plans paid for from swelling reserves of petrodollars, business is booming throughout the oil-rich kingdom.

Inherent in the boom is a commitment by government, business, and industry to create a Saudi work force capable of leading a nation whose grandfathers were Bedouin sheep herders into the ranks of the industrial world.

The plan is to achieve the "Saudization" of sectors of the economy historically dominated by foreign expertise, management, and labor. This is to be done through education, job-training programs, and by incorporating Saudi nationals into all levels of every company operating here until they become 75 percent of each company's work force.

The intent is to fully utilize the work force of a country where now only 15 percent of the population is literate -- much as the kingdom's planned industrial network of gas-powered generators, petrochemical complexes, and refineries is intended to maximize the utility of a single barrel of crude oil.

The difficulty, however, in establishing full Saudization of existing operation and completion of facilities under construction or still on the drawing boards is that the number of new jobs is apparently growing faster than the number of Saudis who will be entering the work force in the next five years.

At present there are 2.5 million jobs in the Saudi job market and it is estimated that 1.1 to 1.7 million expatriates are working in the country. The exact expatriate population is a well- kept secret but it is estimated that this population includes 800,000 from Yemen, 350,000 fom other Arab countries including Palestinians, 140,000 from the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, 100,000 from India and Pakistan, 80,000 from South Korea, 45,000 from America, 30,000 from the United Kingdom and about 15,000 from Western Europe.

The total Saudi population has been estimated at 5.5 million.

Between 300,000 and 700,000 new jobs are expected in the period between 1980 and 1985. during that time, 129,000 Saudi men are expected to enter the work force.

Even considering a migration of foreign workers into Saudi Arabia and the government-forecasted shift of up to 155,000 Saudis from agriculture and construction into the new job sectors, some observers here are projecting a significant shortfall in manpower during the present five-year development plan and beyond.

shortfall is expected by observers to lead to greater competition among major employers, who may soon be scrambling to attract employees from a limited pool of acceptable citizens to satisfy required Saudization programs.

In addition, the government may have to rethink the stated policy in its "third development plan" of limiting the growth of the expatriate labor force to 9,000 during the five-year period.

Independent sources suggest that if Riyadh attempts to limit the amount of expatriate growth by keeping it to about 1 million (as is called for in the third plan) it will cause a decline in the kingdom's growth rate, and delay -- perhaps by decades -- the emergence of Saudi Arabia by the year 2000 as a modern , manufacturing-oriented economy.

Part of the government's hope of keeping the number of new jobs down was based on achieving a 27.2 percent increase in productivity during the five years as workers shift to modern, capital-intensive production methods. This is expected to save the economy 700,000 jobs.

Nonetheless, it appears to some that the government's two major development goals -- Saudization of the work force and rapid modernization of the economy -- are on a collision course.

One independent survey suggests that if the Saudis pursue development while continuing to increase the expatriate population, the relative proportion of foreigners will not begin to decline until the year 2015. In addition, the study projected that total Saudization will not occur for another 70 years.