Saudi National Day: These are exciting times for Saudi Arabia’s youth
What do the youth of today want? In an ever-changing, dynamic world, knowing what the youth of today wants both now and in the future — and providing and facilitating the means for them to achieve all they aspire to and wish for — is a measure of success for any country’s policies. And Saudi Arabia has had a successful track record ever since it adopted Vision 2030, which identified youth as a top priority.
Today, as we celebrate Saudi National Day, we are extremely proud and appreciative of, as well as inspired by, the success and the visionary leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has spearheaded these efforts.
As in every society, the top concern for youth is unemployment. In the latest Arab Youth Survey, young Saudi men and women expressed their strong support for the ongoing economic and social reforms in Saudi Arabia. Some 90 percent of the Saudi youth surveyed voiced support for the policies encouraging graduates and school-leavers to pursue careers in the private sector, while 91 percent supported a larger role for the private sector in the overall economy and 96 percent approved of the various tourism and leisure giga-projects taking shape in the Kingdom. This offers a resounding approval of these policies, which aim to stimulate economic diversification and job creation.
After decades of high unemployment, the Kingdom’s unemployment rate is today remarkably low. With an increase in labor force participation, especially by women, total unemployment dropped to 4.8 percent at the end of 2022. Youth unemployment was halved in the space of two years to 16.8 percent, while women’s participation in the labor force reached 36 percent in 2022, exceeding the 30 percent target set by Vision 2030. According to the latest report by the General Authority for Statistics, key labor market indicators for Saudis have improved compared to a year ago, with rises in both the participation rate and the employment-to-population ratio.
Saudi Arabia has firmly established itself as an economic powerhouse on the world stage, not only with a gross domestic product exceeding $1 trillion and a position as a dominant oil and gas producer, but also as a go-to hub for tourism, music, the arts and sports, and as a center for renewable energy, sustainable urban development and artificial intelligence. According to a recent report by the International Monetary Fund Executive Board, Saudi Arabia was the fastest-growing G20 economy in 2022.
There is a mood of optimism and high hopes for a better future, in which the youth can reach for the skies
Through successful planning, management and marketing, and with the powerful engine of its youth, Saudi Arabia is creating a new frontier in living spaces, tourist destinations and development. The Kingdom’s economy is no longer driven only by strong oil production, but also by non-oil GDP growth due to robust private consumption and non-oil investment, including giga-projects, with wholesale, retail trade, construction and transport being the main drivers of non-oil growth.
This generates a mood of optimism and high hopes for a better future, in which the youth can reach for the skies. It is thus not surprising that the Arab Youth Survey highlighted Saudi Arabia as a model for other countries to emulate. This was not only because of the country’s economic prosperity and job opportunities, but also the quality of life for families, the reformed education system and the diverse culture that organically combines modernity with tradition.
Besides unemployment, the youth in the survey identified corruption, rising living costs, economic instability and climate change as being among their top concerns. Importantly, the youth were highly confident in their government’s ability to address these concerns and that it is going in the right direction. This is a clear vote of confidence in the Saudi leadership and its Vision 2030 agenda.
Furthermore, Saudi Arabia has succeeded in benefiting from its youth dividend by focusing on creating the right enabling environment for young individuals to thrive and grow. A key aspect of this is supporting and investing in startups, incubator initiatives and venture capital funds.
Showing the country’s entrepreneurial spirit, the number of small businesses in Saudi Arabia, many of them female- or youth-led, has more than doubled to over 1 million since the launch of Vision 2030 seven years ago.
There is also more desire to work in the private sector rather than in government, which is a big shift in the mindset from previous decades. This is confirmed by the latest General Authority for Statistics report, which revealed that 94.5 percent of unemployed Saudis indicated they would accept employment in the private sector.
The latest “Future of Jobs” report by the World Economic Forum reported that the fastest-growing job roles in Saudi Arabia will be driven by technology and digitalization. Looking at how our young talents are enthusiastically participating in hackathon events, fintech startups and innovative tech solutions, as well as winning international science and technology competitions, shows how tech-savvy and creative they are. With the expected sharp rise in demand for AI and machine learning specialists, as most businesses are undergoing a digital transformation, our young men and women are ready to take on the digital world.
Teaching at a university, I am surrounded by vibrant, optimistic, creative youths who think of change, impact and sustainable development. They are much more engaged, aware, curious and connected to the world through communications and technology than previous generations. They have aspirations, goals and concerns and are not hesitant about expressing them, but more importantly they are not afraid to venture, challenge themselves and make a difference.
Initiatives such as the Mohammed bin Salman Foundation and the National Transformation Program are focused on engaging the youth, developing their skills and harnessing their talents, which gives them confidence and motivation.
These are exciting times for Saudi youth.
- Maha Akeel is a Saudi expert in communications, social development, and international relations. She is a member of the UN's Senior Women Talent Pipeline. X: @MahaAkeel1