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MENAFN - Arab News - 12/11/2009

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(MENAFN - Arab News) The national banking sector is struggling to find qualified Saudis to fill vacant positions. Last month, Reuters reported that international banks and financial institutions setting up in Saudi Arabia were unable to find qualified staff thanks to an outdated education system lacking business focus.

"There is a lot of truth to this but there are various reasons why banks are struggling to find local talent," said Faisal Alsayrafi, CEO and managing director of the Jeddah-based Financial Transaction House.

He said that headhunting has become disproportionately competitive as employers try to take advantage of the small number of experienced candidates.

Paul Gamble, head of research at Riyadh's Jadwa Investment, said banks are increasingly becoming complex in what they do and the services they provide.

"There is an explosion of banks in Saudi Arabia and there is a huge demand for people," he said. "It has been difficult to fill that locally. More training and qualifications are required."

Chairman of the Finance Department at the College of Business Administration Dr. Hassan Y. Hassan said that it is only recently attention was drawn to the labor market and college students were becoming more aware of the competition.

"Students didn't care much about developing their skills or qualifications in the past. But now that the job market is becoming competitive and tough, it's much more difficult to find opportunities. The number of qualified candidates to work in the banking or financial sector is not sufficient," said Hassan.

Graduating with a degree in finance is not unique anymore. Fresh graduates must enroll in training programs developed by local banks so that they can meet the job requirements. The associate Internal Auditor of Riyadh Bank Lamya Al-Fozan explained there is no communication between universities and banks in determining the minimum requirements or skills for vacancies.

"Banks are recruiting fresh graduates to develop their talents. Basically what they're trying to look for is people with potential. International banks might hire new entry-level employees trained in banks. It has been a struggle especially with the Saudization scheme," said Al-Fozan.

Ulfat bin Sawad, special services manger at the Arab National Bank in Jeddah, said international banks start small in the Kingdom, initially only offering retail banking services.

"And they don't offer really attractive packages for experienced bankers. I personally wouldn't leave my job for a lower wage or a lower position," Sawad said. As for younger talent, Sawad said in the past few years more men and women were expanding their knowledge into the financial arena. "There is a qualified cadre of Saudi men and women who either studied abroad or were trained extensively. I had to take many courses to develop my experience. Many things aren't taught in schools or universities," she said.

The National Commercial Bank, one of the Kingdom's leading banks, started a program in 2007 to develop Saudis who may be looking for a career in retail banking. The Management Associate Program enrolled 23 Saudi graduates, including women. The program, the first of its kind among all Saudi banks, is a nine-month training course taught in the classroom and on the job, tailored specifically for private banking. In July 2009, a report by GulfTalent.com, an online employment service for the Gulf region, stated the economic downturn has led to a significant slowdown of recruitment activity in the GCC region, although Qatar and Saudi Arabia's share of vacancies increased.

Global Investment House released a report in January 2009 confirming that the Saudi banking sector is an attractive destination for financial institutions worldwide despite dampening effects at the end of 2008. "This provides the Kingdom's banks with enormous future business opportunities," stated the report.

Therefore, there is an increase in employment opportunities locally, in addition to a booming financial sector. Alsayrafi says there is a solution for banks looking to hire highly qualified candidates without relying on overseas talent. "Shifting the focus from Western expatriates to the Middle East and focusing on young bilingual Saudis and Arabs," he said.

Many executives demonstrated leadership skills in companies although they may not have the specific skills required for banks, he said "Chief financial officers can also apply for positions in banks, although they might require some training. They make very good candidates. However, the unstable supply and demand of professional and capable individuals, lack of competitive pay and unclear career paths can lead to serious lack of loyalty," Alsayrafi added.

His advice to banks is to provide strong incentives for talented individuals, which will increase their loyalty and expand their horizons.

By Hassna'a Mokhtar


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