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Given a Choice, Saudis Prefer Government Jobs

by Jihad Fakhreddine and Travis Owen
Given a Choice, Saudis Prefer Government Jobs

Story Highlights

  • Businesses in Saudi Arabia pressured to hire more Saudis
  • Only 19% of Saudis would opt for a private-sector job
  • Government jobs no longer a guarantee

This is the first article in a two-part series exploring employment in Saudi Arabia.

Businesses operating in Saudi Arabia are facing increasing pressure and regulation from the Saudi government to hire more Saudis instead of expatriates. The Nitaqat program, which was enacted in 2011 to encourage private-sector employment of Saudis, requires companies to hire anywhere from 19% to 100% Saudi workers, depending on the industry sector.

To be competitive and continue operating in Saudi Arabia, businesses need to attract qualified Saudis. But to accomplish this goal, they must overcome significant perception problems, because most Saudis would prefer to work for the government. If given a choice, only about one in five Saudi national adults (19%) polled by Gallup between 2013 and 2015 would opt for a job in the private sector; the vast majority (75%) would prefer employment in the public sector.

Almost eight in 10 Saudi women would also prefer jobs in the public sector (78%). Though the government is keen to lure this group -- who are significantly more likely than men to be unemployed -- into the private sector, only 14% of Saudi women would prefer such a job.

Private Sector Is Unprepared

The overall preference among Saudi nationals for employment in the government sector is not new. Saudi citizens in the labor force have long expected -- and felt guaranteed -- a secure job in the government sector. Societal changes and government pressures have been gradually removing cultural limits on employment opportunities for Saudi women. This shift seems to have caught the private sector unprepared to cope with the surge of Saudi women interested in being economically active.

These societal changes come at a time when the Saudi government is heavily promoting and enforcing labor regulations, hoping to convince unemployed Saudis to seek jobs in the private sector. The ultimate aim is to break away from the seemingly perpetual 90/90 employment gridlock, where about 90% of Saudis are employed by the government and 90% of the jobs in the private sector are filled by about 7 million Arab and non-Arab expatriates.

Government efforts to promote the employment of Saudis in the private sector have been reinforced by the enactment of the Nitaqat program in 2011. The outcome of these policies was outlined in 2013 by then Labor Minister Adel Fakeih, who reported that unemployment rates among Saudis had dropped to 11.7% in the third quarter of 2013.

Through Nitaqat, the Saudi government is telling the private sector it must shoulder the responsibility of securing jobs for the growing number of Saudi men and women already seeking employment or who are expected to join the labor force. Saudi Arabia needs to create 3 million jobs for Saudi nationals by 2015 and 6 million jobs by 2030, according to comments made by Fakeih in January 2012.

Government Jobs No Longer a Guarantee

Saudis are also being forced to reconsider employment in the private sector, since government jobs are no longer a guarantee. For Saudis, the private sector seems more prone to insecurity compared with what the government has historically promised: a secure job from cradle to grave. The Saudi Civil Affairs Ministry reports that 1.2 million Saudis are working in the public sector, with women accounting for 38.3% of the public workforce.

Though these are the government's objectives and enforced polices, the question remains: What are the job expectations and concerns of Saudis overall? The next article in this series will address this and other questions.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 2,535 Saudi nationals, aged 15 and older, conducted between 2013 and 2015 in Saudi Arabia. For results based on the total sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±2.5 percentage points. Results are based on interviews ranging from 683 to 760 Saudi adults each period. The margin of error reflects the influence of data weighting. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

For more complete methodology and specific survey dates, please review Gallup's Country Data Set details.

Learn more about how the Gallup World Poll works.

Jihad Fakhreddine is a Senior Research Analyst, Middle East and North Africa, at Gallup.
Travis Owen is an Analyst at Gallup.
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