Pepsi Cola Bugshan (formerly SIPCO) is the bottler and distributor for Pepsi Cola in Saudi Arabia’s western region and Yemen. We have around 60 people in our HR department and my remit also covers legal and corporate services.
My main challenge is finding Saudi talent willing to work in the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) sector. This is compounded by the fact we opened one of the world’s largest Pepsi factories near Jeddah at the end of 2016 at a cost of £2.1m, which needed an additional 500 employees with the technical skills to operate modern machinery.
To fulfil this, we’ve started hiring people from all over the world. We bring in people from Kenya, Poland and other areas of the world where they operate the same bottling machinery. We also partner with institutes in these regions, which deliver technical qualifications to potential expat employees, although the qualifications differ slightly between countries.
In Saudi Arabia, we’ve built a specific two-year diploma programme, in partnership with Yanbu Technical Institute, which provides students with the skills needed to work in FMCG companies. We pay the costs of the Institute, plus a monthly allowance for students, who are registered as our employees and guaranteed a job if they pass. They join us for training in the summer holidays, and we also provide a clear development path for graduates.
The future of Saudi talent
The most important thing for Saudis isn’t salary; they want security and a career path. So, if someone joins as a machine operator, we provide guidance on how they can become a senior operator, then a supervisor, then a shift supervisor, then a production manager. We make it a clear part of their key performance indicators (KPI)s.
We still struggle to get the right people on board. The people who join the Institute are those who didn’t get into university, and of the 50 we brought onto the programme last year, only 30 remained after the first semester. Of those 30, some didn’t pass and some didn’t like the work. When they see that they work in a factory and not an office, it’s a problem.
For me, our youth lacks the right mentality for work. For example, another problem we have is that we are a shift work based company. We operate 24 hours a day and expect our employees to work a six day week. This is a shock to young Saudis, who don’t want to work nights or at weekends. Yes, it is a big commitment, but what you get in rewards here are better than if you were in a government job. We pay more and you get better experience. If you’re young, you should work hard for the first ten years of your career and relax later. That is why we hire for behaviours, not qualifications.
A new employee must have the right personality and drive to work in our culture. I don’t have an issue with skills or qualifications, as I can train people in these.
Nationalisation and Vision 2030
Another important quality for our new recruits is emotional maturity. We’re a meritocracy, but some Saudis struggle if they find out that their supervisor is an expat, particularly if the manager is Asian or Indian. This mentality needs to change. This is why it’s so important to invest in the right people.
Business leaders often ask why they should invest in a national when they can get an expat who is ready straightaway. My answer is that people are your capital. You can’t grow without them and the companies of the future will need good nationals.
If you invest now, you’ll get your return in the future. Saudis will not leave you if you give a good salary and development opportunities, whereas expats could leave at any time. From a strategy point of view, you have to make it clear to the business that it is a long-term investment. What you spend on Saudisation today, you won’t get back for 5-10 years.
The importance of vocational training
Vocational training could be very important in helping Saudis understand the working world better. This is why we ensure our technical trainees join us in the summer to understand how we work, and why the technical level of our expat hires is the most important quality when hiring from abroad. They understand the equipment and what is expected of them in the working environment. This is where the HR function can play a big part in the development of Saudi talent.
Now is the right time for HR professionals to be character builders. For example, some people think it’s cheaper to bring migrant workers from India than hire Saudis. Actually, the right technical talent from India is very expensive now. Business leaders don’t know what’s going on in the market, but HR understands this. We must be strategically important, not just supporters of business.