It’s important to invest in people. A businessman will ask “why should I invest in someone, I can get an expat who is ready to work?” He should know that your people are your capital. Expats have helped us in the past, but in future we’ll need good professional nationals. We need to start now.”
This is the advice of Khaled Sayoti, who has worked in private sector HR for nearly 20 years. His career has taken in roles at Savola Group and Attieh Steel, but he has spent the past six years at Pepsi Cola Bugshan (formerly Saudi Industrial Projects Company), the regional bottler and distributor of PepsiCo in Saudi Arabia.
When a man of his experience calls for HR to take a leading role in developing future talent in the region – and for that talent to step up to the plate – leaders should listen.
“Now is the time for HR to be character builders,” he continues. “Business people see HR as strategically important, but it’s not just about getting the right people, it’s about getting the right people at the right time. It should be clear that Saudi nationals are a long-term investment. What I spend today on Saudis, I won’t get back next year, but in five-to- ten years’ time. Saudis will not leave if you give a good salary and development opportunities; expats could leave at any time.”
As ever, nationalisation is on the agenda in the Middle East. Vision 2030 in Saudi Arabia aims to cut the unemployment rate to 7% by 2030, which involves the creation of around 1.3 million extra jobs in the Kingdom. A new form of Nitaqat that looks at a range of factors – average Saudi national pay, the ratio of Saudi to non-Saudi wages, and employment of women – rather than simply the number of Saudis employed – means the hunt for talented nationals is on the increase, with many roles ear-marked for the private sector.
Pepsi Cola Bugshan is a private business well-placed to meet these challenges. Home to more than 2,000 employees, the organisation has 17 distribution centres across the west of Saudi Arabia and is poised to open the world’s largest bottling facility in Jeddah’s second industrial city, at a cost of £2.1m.
With more than 500 employees due to take up roles at the new hi-tech mega plant, Sayoti is charged with hiring technically competent people from around the globe – and the best of the national market.
The plant, visited by PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi in October 2016, requires skilled technicians proficient in computer-led bottling. Sayoti’s team has been hiring professionals from other PepsiCo plants in Kenya and Poland, as well as attempting to attract the next generation of Saudi talent.
However, Sayoti believes that private sector roles are often a culture shock for graduates, with different working hours and challenges to those in education and traditional public sector roles.
“Working in the private sector is different,” he explains. “We are a 24-hour factory with shift work and a six-day working week. In the public sector, people will work half a day. We work hard during Eid holidays, often only getting one day off when others get weeks. We also work some nights. Young Saudis have busy social lives. If you tell them to come and work at night, they’ll say ‘no’. Sometimes they’ll go out in the evening and forget they have work the next day. It’s an issue with our mentality,” he admits.
To combat this, cultural fit and emotional intelligence form a key component of Pepsi Cola Bugshan’s national hiring strategy.
The organisation has built a training programme, in partnership with Yanbu Technical Institute, to provide students with skills applicable to any fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) industry.
To attract candidates, Pepsi Cola Bugshan – through owner Sheikh Ahmed Salem Bugshan – pays students a monthly salary to attend, and covers bills and accommodation costs. Students are registered as employees and undertake work experience during summer months. If they pass the programme, they are guaranteed a job with a competitive starting salary and a development path to a managerial level.
“If you start as a machine operator, you have clear steps to progress to become a senior operator, then a supervisor, then a production manager. We give key performance indicators and steps to progress. That’s how we attract Saudis.”
Despite this, Sayoti acknowledges the continued reluctance among nationals to work in the private sector, and believes more needs to be done to prepare future talent for the world of work.
“Saudis might be good at studying, but when they start working, they get a shock. They should be taught how to cope in a work environment while studying, and private companies can help.
Last semester, we accepted 50 people onto the course, but by the end, only 30 remained. Of these, some decided they didn’t like working in a factory rather than an office. It can be a problem getting the right talent.”
In an environment in which two-thirds of the Saudi population is aged under 30 and 29% of 15-25 year old Saudis are unemployed, Sayoti is convinced that a mentality shift is needed among the next generation.
“You need to spend the first ten years of your working life working hard. You can relax after that. This is the mentality we should have. Think about your future rather than just the present. When hiring, I don’t have an issue with people’s qualifications or skills, I can train them. But the applicant must have the attitude and personality to be a hard worker. We have people who start working in security and end up as managers. They start studying with us and gain Bachelors and Masters degrees. It’s about your desire,” says Sayoti.
Pepsi Cola Bugshan’s development programme includes an internal training academy, which offers personal development training, with technical skills dealt with by external providers, as well as a high-potentials programme for future managers, which uses a blend of psychometric testing, assessment centres and line manager interviews to determine who has the right mix of soft and technical skills.
Training is updated on a central calendar. Line managers give HR a list of employees who want training and HR assesses each applicant’s background, potential and previous development before signing it off. Employees know, in advance, whether, when and where they will receive training each year; 700 employees succeed annually.
Sayoti recently became a UN goodwill ambassador in the Gulf region, focusing on helping young people make the transition from education to employment in the private sector. His motivation?
“I joined because my son and daughter are of this age. I see their generation. My daughter studied in the US, and her mentality changed because her course made her do research and think for herself rather than just read textbooks.”
Sayoti believes openness and desire to learn is vital to changing young people’s mindsets. HR can apply this attitude – and lead on it to build a learning organisation.
“Don’t live by what you read and study,” he argues. “Do it by life experiences. Meet people, discuss scenarios, develop networks. HR is like medicine: if you depend on the old medicine you will not succeed. There are always new ideas and new cures to be had.”