Since I moved to Dubai six years ago as part of SAP’s talent acquisition team, I have covered most, if not all of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) countries in some shape or form. But to date, the one that has been my deepest focus, and also the one that remains one of the most interesting places from a recruitment perspective, is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA).
My experience with KSA began during a discussion about how to best align our SAP talent acquisition organization with the new SAP regional business structure in 2016. Rather than work in the Emirates, which I knew well, I decided that there might be a very different experience to be had in hiring for Saudi.
The challenge in the Saudi market is to look beyond the expat talent pool towards local talent who have a cultural and social understanding of the market. This would also help take us beyond the required quota of Saudi hires.
To best understand how we needed to adapt our hiring approach, we spent time in Saudi talking with all our stakeholders and many Saudi talents and universities. Too many times recruiters in the region hire Saudi-based roles from the comfort of our Dubai base, and this is a fundamental mistake.
In order to access a pool of early talent, we focused our attention on the local universities which, aside from bringing us qualified hires, also greatly improved our rating as an employer of choice. In turn, it has driven more candidates to our talent pools.
It became clear to us that candidates, regardless whether expats or nationals, attached huge importance and credibly to our in-country experience, rather than armchair advice.
A trend seemed to emerge from our discussions that the largest and most relevant pool of talent was found among the fresh graduate population of Saudi nationals. The Kingdom has invested massively in quality education, and this has paid off in a large pool of very well trained and highly motivated graduates.
As we started to interview these graduates, we realized they were well adapted to our complex and challenging IT environment because of their high level of education and natural interest in all things related to technology. Interestingly, women graduates often came out as the strongest candidates and were therefore natural choices.
We hired a significant number of very talented nationals, including women, into our SAP KSA family and received great feedback about their progress. Not only had we increased our diversity and number of national hires, but we received extraordinarily positive feedback from the organization, as these new hires set examples for the rest of their teams. They were eager to share how they could make a difference for their country as part of the National Transformation Program (NTP) and how their long-term development could help actively contribute to the Saudi economy.
This shift in our hiring approach towards Saudi early talent has had an impact well beyond addressing a set quota. By making relatively simple and pragmatic changes, we were able to impact the business in a variety of areas, including a positive culture shift, increased gender diversity, as well gaining as an infusion of fresh, new ideas.
Ultimately, what we initially perceived as one of the more challenging regions has become one of the more enjoyable and rewarding regions to hire for in MENA. I am glad to have taken on the challenge.
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