The big issue - how to tackle unemployment

Dr Jarmo Kotilaine, the chief economist of Saudi Arabia's biggest bank NCB, talks about how to tackle unemployment.

Dr Jarmo Kotilaine, the chief economist of Saudi Arabia's biggest bank NCB, talks about the economic challenges facing the country.

How big a problem is unemployment in Saudi Arabia?

According to official estimates, unemployment rose to 10 per cent last year. Nevertheless, that figure is believed to have climbed considerably among lower age groups. As many as 39 per cent of Saudis between the ages of 20 and 24 are out of work. Government officials have been quoted as saying the country needs to create 5 million jobs by 2030, with at least 3 million of those higher paying positions in the private sector. Previous initiatives to curb unemployment have struggled - most recently, a five-year plan in 2005 aimed to cut jobless rates to less than 3 per cent by 2009.

What can be done to address the youth unemployment problem?

I think more will have to be done to create summer jobs and internship opportunities. This needs to become culturally embedded. Also, the importance of career counselling needs to be recognised. Saudi Arabia needs a more efficient labour market, including European-style job centres, where people can look for vacancies.

What role does the private sector have to play in addressing these issues?

The private sector must be involved in these schemes. Companies need incentives to employ young people. If we want to create sustainable opportunities, we need to bring the private sector on board.

What about education?

This is critical. Educational institutions need to incorporate summer jobs and internships in their curriculums. Students need to be rewarded for work experience. Educational institutions should also try to work with companies to create opportunities for young people. They need to seek a dialogue on what is needed.