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Making Change Happen: The Talent That Will Bring Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 Into Focus As the Kingdom expands and ventures into new sectors, companies are increasingly looking for subject matter experts from abroad with strong track records in their respective spaces, especially for positions where industry expertise is critical.

By Mohamad Turk

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Saudi Arabia's job opportunities and openness to international talent are at a historic high. The Kingdom has seen the strongest increase in employment in almost five years, as companies look to add to their ranks in response to economic growth. Central to this is economic diversification, which is currently underway at all levels.

The Kingdom has underscored the desire to diversify its oil-dependent economy through its US$700 billion sovereign Public Investment Fund (PIF), which will create a healthy foundation for businesses to thrive. Investments are funneling into new sectors including space, defense, entertainment, sports, tourism, and culture. The industrial sector, propelled by manufacturing, energy, and infrastructure, is a vital space that is rapidly developing, with certain areas witnessing exponential growth. This is notably observed among mining, defense, aviation, transportation, maritime, and agriculture sectors.

Total industrial investment reached $38.5 trillion in December 2022, powering the operations of more than 10,500 factories. For instance, the automotive industry is booming. Lucid Group's first international manufacturing plant in the Kingdom aims to produce some 150,000 vehicles per year. In the aviation sector, the Kingdom has pumped $30 billion into its new flag carrier Riyadh Air, which plans to serve 100 destinations by 2030.

Defense and agriculture are areas similarly primed for growth. Home to one of the fastest growing defense sectors in the world, the Kingdom maintains its position as the dominant player in the MENA market, with defense accounting for around 9% of its gross domestic product (GDP). Saudi Arabia is aiming to be among the world's top 25 defense players by 2030 through Saudi Arabian Military Industries (SAMI), an entity wholly owned by the PIF. SAMI is expected to play a key role in localizing 50% of Saudi Arabia's total government defense spending.

Meanwhile, as the largest agricultural market in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region, the Kingdom is expected to register a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.9% in its agricultural sector, with major expansion underway in multiple segments, as well as incentives from the Ministry of Environment, Water, and Agriculture to expedite Vision 2030 goals. Additionally, mining in Saudi is on track to triple its contribution to GDP by 2030, mainly led by Saudi Arabian Mining Company. To boost investment, the government has also implemented a range of incentives, such as tax exemptions, land grants, and streamlined licensing processes.


Economic diversification is thus driving demand for foreign talent with new skills and valuable industry-specific expertise. The barriers to integrating expatriates into the economy have been greatly reduced. As the Kingdom expands and ventures into new sectors, companies are increasingly looking for subject matter experts from abroad with strong track records in their respective spaces, especially for positions where industry expertise is critical. Even at the C-suite level, global and cross-cultural exposure is highly sought after. 43% CEOs in the Saudi Arabia have cross-border experience compared to those in the Asia–Pacific APAC (41%) region, while the global average is 36%, according to Heidrick & Struggles' Route to the Top 2022 report.

Expat talent can add value to organizations through learnings from mature industries and markets as well as diverse leadership experience. This helps companies, sovereign funds, and governments sail past the "test and learn" stage to deliver faster, more sustainable results. The aim is for these expatriates to transfer best practice to help the Kingdom achieve the objectives of Vision 2030, as well as cultivate a new generation of homegrown talent.

In addition to hiring internationally, the Kingdom is investing in upskilling local employees, and creating new job opportunities for young Saudi Arabians to create a steady stream of talent. For instance, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) and the Saudi Industrial Development Fund (SIDF) are providing training for local manufacturers to enhance capacity building and education in areas of deep tech such as artificial intelligence (AI), internet of things (IoT), digital transformation, and prototyping. Leaders in emerging fields have an important role to play in ensuring that these and other critical skills continue to develop beyond the realm of education.

Related: Opening Up To The World: Saudi Arabia's Tourism Goals


The industrial landscape in Saudi Arabia has become extremely competitive. With the ongoing push from the government to deliver on a wide range of projects, the private sector is experiencing pressure to hire the best talent in the sector. Against this backdrop, there are specific skillsets that are highly sought after among leaders in the space.

Agility is a crucial skill that helps accelerate growth for businesses. Given the current pace of expansion and development, there is a demand for CEOs who can adapt fast to change, strategize for multiple eventualities in the face of uncertainty, and deliver results in a shorter period of time than ever before. Leaders must be able to learn from mistakes, and rally quickly in the face of failure. The ability to bounce back quickly is necessary for the organization to adopt what worked, and avoid what did not in the future.

Change management is another salient skill for leaders in Saudi Arabia. CEOs cannot rely solely on predicting industry changes; they need to understand how to effectively act on that knowledge. To sustain success, leaders must begin by establishing the future objectives of their organization, taking stock of existing strengths they can tap into, and identifying areas that require improvement. To shift mindsets and scale organization-wide transformation, they should also create a framework and structure to facilitate the necessary changes, provide motivation, and engage in effective communication to drive this transformation, and lead by example.

Passing on necessary skillsets to the Saudi workforce, and helping organizations develop proper succession planning will ensure that businesses build resilience for long-term success. While all leaders should understand the practicalities of the job, exemplary leaders know how to build and nurture the next generation of leaders in the workforce, and effectively implement succession planning in a systematic and sustainable way within the organization. Developing successors means imbuing the ability to lead through influence, drive execution, and create possibilities and innovation, as well as an ownership mindset.

Another important factor for success is the ability to navigate the cultural landscape and fit into the market without losing focus on the company's innovation objectives. This calls for a tactful approach and a level of ease -and tolerance- in working with a variety of unfamiliar stakeholders, including the board, which often comprises Saudi nationals, regulatory bodies, and government entities. This quality does not come naturally to every leader; identifying those who possess it will be key to realizing the multiple visions encapsulated in Vision 2030.

Related: Saudi Arabia Has The Potential To Become The Switzerland Of The Middle East (And Here's Why That Matters For The Kingdom)

Mohamad Turk is a Partner in Heidrick & Struggles’ Dubai office and a member of its global industrial practice.

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