Tapping Saudi Arabia’s abundant pool of talent

Tapping Saudi Arabia’s abundant pool of talent

Saudi Arabia is rich in extraordinary talent. Nurturing leaders is one of the best investments for its future. As Saudi Arabia moves away from a hydrocarbon-led economy to a knowledge-based one, how we prepare youth to thrive in a new and transformed ecosystem of opportunity must be a top priority. With 51 percent of the Saudi population under the age of 25, the stakes for preparing this next generation are incredibly high.

It is estimated that the number of Saudis aged 15 years and over will likely increase by about six million by 2030. McKinsey, which last month launched the second edition of its Qimam student fellowship program, estimates that this upcoming demographic bulge could bring at least 4.5 million new working-age Saudis into the labor market by 2030. That would almost double the size of the workforce to about 10 million. To absorb this influx requires the creation of almost three times as many jobs for Saudis as the Kingdom created during the 2003–13 oil boom.

As Saudi Arabia continues its economic transformation and ambitious programs under Vision 2030, the group of young, dynamic leaders who will ultimately be responsible for driving that vision must prepared to make it a reality. 

Tom Isherwood

Additionally, the uncertain environment brought about by digital transformation and technological advances means that leaders need to be equipped with the right skills and capabilities to excel in an increasingly digital-first world. For example, the report by McKinsey Global Institute entitled ‘A future that works: Automation, employment, and productivity’ estimates that about half of all the activities people are paid to do globally could potentially be automated.

To address this situation, it is important that Saudi Arabia empowers a more productive workforce with higher participation to raise output levels across all sectors and provide gainful employment for the large cohort of young people entering the job market by 2030. 

But, it’s not just about the number of employees, as the Kingdom also needs to overcome an important skills gap. Key to this is education, which would include raising standards in schools, scaling up vocational training, and ensuring a better transition from education to employment. 

As Saudi Arabia continues its economic transformation and ambitious programs under Vision 2030, the group of young, dynamic leaders who will ultimately be responsible for driving that vision must prepared to make it a reality. 

The government plays a big role, investing about 25 percent of all spending in education and focusing heavily on integrating technology, AI, and digital skillsets into university curricula. This is an important step in the right direction, but the responsibility must be shared by the private sector, as well. It is time for business to step up and play a bigger role in identifying and nurturing the next generation of talent.

To do our part in helping to prepare the next generation of leaders in Saudi Arabia, last year McKinsey & Company incubated and co-created the Qimam Fellowship program, in partnership with leading companies across a variety of key sectors. 

Together with a group of incredibly generous and committed partners the private sector is working to identify, develop, and empower the most promising and distinguished university students in Saudi Arabia. We deeply believe that training and leadership development, steeped in both strategic and practical methodologies, is a critical component for driving the Kingdom’s aspirations, now and in the future.

Qimam fellows are identified through a rigorous search process while they are Bachelor or Masters students at university. The experience, training, and exposure the fellows then receive are unique, from top level mentorship and training with executives from leading global organizations to team building, networking, and support for job placement after the program. 

Many prominent Saudi and international organizations, as well as leaders from the public and private sector, collaborate to create a rich and powerful program. Showcasing their abilities to potential employers and industry leaders, the program equips fellows to capture opportunities of the 21st century, and opens up doors for young leaders, not only to find a job, but to build a career that leverages both their interests and their strengths.

Perhaps most importantly, Qimam is sparking a curiosity about different professional areas and sectors to explore, new businesses to create, and big problems to solve. Regardless of the path, Qimam is equipping young leaders with the skills and building confidence and character in the process.

This, we believe, is the very definition of a win-win, and exactly the type of initiative Saudi Arabia needs more of as it faces the challenges ahead.


• Tom Isherwood is a partner at McKinsey Middle East and Luay Khoury, who co-authored this article, is an associate partner 

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