Saudi Arab: King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) world-leading graduate research education ensures young people have the knowledge and training required for the rapidly-changing Saudi economy, which speakers explored during the Future Talent Conference: Fireside Talks on March 15.
dr. Najah Ashry, vice president of KAUST for Strategic National Advancement, said in her opening remarks that the Kingdom is undergoing a “massive transformation towards a sustainable future” that is unparalleled anywhere throughout history. “We know that it is really going to impact the job market. It’s going to impact how we look at ourselves and how we define the future.”
The Kingdom’s Vision 2030 goals include increasing non-oil government revenue from SR163 billion to SR1 trillion per year, increasing the private sector’s contribution from 40 to 65 percent of GDP, and increasing GDP contributions from small- and- medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). from 20 to 35 percent. It also aims to lower the unemployment rate from 11.6 to seven percent.
Saudi Arabia is changing rapidly, said Ashry, and with so much investment in the research and innovation ecosystem, the impact on the career paths of Saudi students is apparent. “KAUST is also undergoing tremendous changes to be able to support the development of the Kingdom.”
Dana Al-Sulaiman, assistant professor, materials science and engineering physical science and engineering division, KAUST, told the conference that the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 is aligning different industries, programs and people from across the country toward a common cause. “The nice thing about the vision is it’s really allowing the whole society to hone in on very well-defined goals and objectives.”
She said that KAUST not only advances the Kingdom through groundbreaking research, but also by preparing the next generation for opportunities. “Saudi is really becoming more diverse in terms of its economy, but the other nice thing is Saudi is empowering its youth. And so, if you look left, right and center you’ll see there are many centers for educating and empowering this generation, whether it’s through academia, through entrepreneurship or through industry.”
With a generation of future leaders inspired and educated towards addressing the same challenges, Al-Sulaiman added, the Kingdom can advance quickly towards prosperity and sustainability. “As long as you’re learning how to learn, and you have the ambition, and you demonstrate that through your activities and your approach, then you’ll go very far.”
Hosted alongside KAUST’s Spring Career Fair, March 15-16, 2023, the Future Talent Conference built on the success of last year’s conference with its ‘Fireside Talks’ featuring experts from KAUST and industry discussing how market dynamics and technology are impacting both employees and employers .
Tania Tasopoulou, director of workforce planning and development, Beacon Development, cites the Saudi Green Initiative as providing job growth, but industry must ensure the ‘right’ workforce skills are developed. Shinkyu Park, assistant professor in electrical and computer engineering, KAUST, said industry collaboration is key to academic alignment, helping to ensure young people’s education matches the technology research requirements.
Omar Khasawneh, startup incubation lead, KAUST, said that with the Kingdom’s plan to increase the presence of SMEs in the overall economy, young people have much more access to capital to start their own companies or join an early-stage enterprise. Further, he added, an increase in SMEs will change the dynamics for attracting and retaining talent, with larger employers forced to compete for a limited pool of available skilled workers.
“Even big corporates, they need now to change their processes and work culture in order to tap into this young talent that has other options. Otherwise, they’ll miss out.”
For its part, SaudiVax is a biotechnology firm developing vaccines and biologics, specifically to meet unmet regional medical demands. Along with building a biotechnological ecosystem in the Kingdom, Project Manager Leena Alameer said SaudiVax has a training program to bring more Saudis into the pharma sector. “This program will touch base from the development stage and to the upscaling and marketing stage of new products, and especially of vaccines.”