Why Saudi Arabia is emerging as a regional talent magnet

The sheer scale of growth in the kingdom has boosted the number of opportunities for jobseekers

The Kingdom Tower, operated by Kingdom Holding Co., left, stands alongside the King Fahd highway, illuminated by the light trails of passing traffic, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Saturday, Jan. 9, 2016. Saudi Arabian stocks led Gulf Arab markets lower after oil extended its slump from the lowest close since 2004. Photographer: Waseem Obaidi/Bloomberg
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For many international jobseekers, the UAE has long been an attractive prospect to live and work.

The ease of finding a job, setting up a business, buying a home or even booking a luxury beachside hotel room have all contributed to putting the UAE on the map.

Thanks to UAE Founding Father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, and the efforts of the current rulers, the Emirates continues to develop and progress on the global stage.

But with a rich economy and a bold 2030 Vision to become less reliant on oil, is Saudi Arabia becoming another regional leader in attracting the best talent?

In terms of the numbers of roles, there are certainly many opportunities in the kingdom.

The changes in recent years in Saudi Arabia to bring more international culture, technology and ideas to the country are plain for all to see.

I first visited Saudi Arabia in 2007 from Dubai and it was very different to what it is now.

Big oil companies from the US and the formation of Saudi Aramco meant it was easy to see an American influence in the country.

Now, world-famous fine dining establishments such as Cipriani, Nusr-Et and LPM have opened and the F&B scene in the kingdom is firmly becoming established.

Watch: Some stats behind the UAE's hiring boom

Some of the stats behind the UAE's hiring boom

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES, FEB 24, 2016. Jason Leavy, MD of Edelman Dabo. Photo: Reem Mohammed / The National (Reporter: Frank Kane /Section: BZ) Job ID: 27616 *** Local Caption ***  RM_20160224_JASONLEAVY_004.JPG

Tourism is growing and the introduction of e-visas in late 2019 has meant a more seamless process to enter the country.

The Red Sea Project is one of many initiatives that will grow both population and tourism — and there is a huge redevelopment programme happening in and around Jeddah.

With a purchasing managers’ index reading of 56.9 for December 2022, Riyad Bank announced the largest job growth in non-oil sectors in five years.

I am seeing a huge demand for highly skilled technology experts — both Saudi and non-Saudi — across the country.

Salaries are also on the rise, with an estimated 11 per cent annual increase for non-Saudis in 2021, according to the MyExpatriate Market Pay Survey, which is published annually by London-based research company ECA International.

The kingdom is also making inroads on the global stage for sport, launching LIV Golf, buying English Premier League football club Newcastle United in 2021 and signing Cristiano Ronaldo to Al Nassr FC, with the richest sports contract in history last week.

As a recruiter, I am seeing more foreigners open to moving to Saudi Arabia than was the case a few years ago. Why?

As a recruiter, I am seeing more foreigners open to moving to Saudi Arabia than was the case a few years ago
John Armstrong, founder and managing director, JCA Associates

There is a highly improved infrastructure and quality of life on offer — and this will only get better.

With mega projects such as Neom and Qiddiya (reported to become the Disneyland of Saudi Arabia) well under way, there is much to look forward to in the kingdom.

The sheer scale of growth means there are plenty of opportunities for international candidates.

Thanks to more relaxed ownership laws, it is a lot easier for foreign investors to build their businesses in the country — and there are plenty of start-ups hiring.

Fifteen years ago, people such as myself planned to live and work in the UAE for just two to three years — and many of us have decided to stay, make a home and raise a family here. I am very happy I made that choice.

The living standards in the UAE are second to none; it’s very safe and there really is a feeling that we live in a land of opportunity.

But the same can be said about Saudi Arabia — and it will no doubt become home for many of us over the next few years as the country embraces Vision 2030.

John Armstrong is founder and managing director of recruitment agency JCA Associates.

Updated: January 13, 2023, 5:00 AM