Saudi Gazette reports on shifting attitudes toward manual labor in the Kingdom. The realization that not everyone can be a chief is starting to sink in, and with this realization, unemployment levels are starting to drop.

Two generations of Saudis were raised in a magical period, when jobs were guaranteed solely on the basis of one’s Saudi nationality. Before the trend lines of oil income and population growth intersected disastrously, a young (male) Saudi could count on getting a government job on a managerial level. With this kind of wonderland effect, many forgot their families’ recent history.

Prior to the development of the petroleum industry, Saudis had a choice: work hard or die. One of the most hostile environments on earth required backbreaking work—whether as a herder, farmer, or merchant—always at the edge of famine. Weather could wreak havoc on crops, could strand caravans or sink fishing boats. For most of recorded history, the people who lived in what is now Saudi Arabia led precarious existences.

With oil came modern conveniences, from air conditioning to water pumps, from trucks to desalination plants. Instead of having to do hard labor, Saudis could now hire others to do the grunt work while they sat back and supervised.

Exploding populations and depressed oil prices (the status for most of the country’s history—oil was selling for $10/bbl throughout the 1990s, and for $0.50 for most of the middle part of the last century) changed this reality. Saudis needed to find jobs and there just weren’t that many plush office jobs available anymore. Government could no longer be the employer of last resort.

Now Saudis are accepting the fact that honest work is better than sitting around doing nothing. Men are taking blue-collar jobs; women are willing to take jobs in shops or even as domestic employees (though some other Saudis still think this too demeaning).

I think this change in attitude is going to be the key to making ‘Saudization’ work. As more young Saudis realize that the jobs that expats are doing could be done by themselves, that work is honorable no matter its social status, the problems of finding jobs for an exploding population will resolve themselves.

Saudi Youth Working Harder
Ibrahim Al-Qarbi

THE unemployment rate among youth has lowered in 2007 as many Saudi youths have began accepting formerly stigmatized jobs.

The unemployment rate fell to 8.3 from 9.1 percent for Saudi males and to 24.7 from 26.3 percent for Saudi females.
Khalf Al-Shemeri, a Saudi national from Hail, began working as an assistant cook in a reputable restaurant right after he completed his secondary studies.

“I didn’t like the job at first because of the stigma attached to it but it eventually grew on me after a few months,” he said. “I learned a lot from the chef that enabled me to come up with my own own dishes, which our customers like very much.”

His employers seem to like Al-Shemeri’s work, too – enough to give him a salary increase.

Al-Shemari calls upon the young job seekers to junk stereotypes on manual and blue-collar jobs. He said it is better to accept any job that’s honorable than be a burden to one’s family. He cites Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), who worked as a shepherd in his youth, as an example.


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