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Who Is Responsible?

I read a report recently that IBM, the world’s largest computer services company, will be investing $6 billion in India over the next three years. This decision guarantees that Indians will play a significant role in shaping IBM products and services, and it affirms India’s position as a valuable spot to tap high-tech skills.

In addition to IBM, other global companies are competing to harness talent and to solidify market share in the world’s second-fastest growing economy after China. Microsoft, Intel and Cisco have invested more than a billion dollars in India, and the list goes on.

The reason for the investments is the right talent from India’s educated, technically qualified, English-speaking pool of graduates. It is as if there is a war between international companies to hire Indian students.

“Your career opportunities within IBM are limitless,” President and CEO Samuel Palmisano told the corporation’s Indian work force of 10,000 — average age 24, yes, 24 — at a Tuesday meeting.

Hundreds of global companies are investing in India despite bureaucratic hurdles because of the other attraction — namely, the qualified graduates.

And I wonder why these giants do not stop here on their way to India. “Why would they when our own companies are looking outside for employees?” a friend of mine asked. The question is revealing.

In a fast changing, highly competitive world with a focus on science, technology, marketing skills and languages, Saudi companies that want to go forward need foreign expertise. They are reluctant to hire graduates from here, and the reason is as clear as the sun shining on a cloudless day — these grads cannot pass an entry-level job test. I have worked with many young people; I advise quite a few and try to act as a mentor, and I know.

They come out of the university ill prepared to start a career. They don’t have the knowledge they need, the computer skills or any foreign-language skills. Even their Arabic leaves much to be desired. Their work ethics also are questionable, but if they do get a job and are fired for a just cause, they rush off to the Labor Office to file a complaint! That seems to be their greatest career skill.

Now, of course, all are not like that, and I hate to generalize. Usually when you get a candidate with good work ethics, the knowledge base to put that enthusiasm to work is not there. I believe that employers should continuously train and develop their staff, but after 16 years of school, employers should be able to expect graduates to have some basic skills. If graduates don’t have those skills, then something is drastically wrong.

And who is to blame? In India, village schools are built with bamboo, and many universities don’t have all of the facilities that we have. Many students travel 5 or 6 kilometers on bicycles or afoot just to get to school in the morning; yet these are the students that the world’s top companies are eagerly courting — not ours.

We should be asking ourselves why, and we shouldn’t blame the students. I’m sure most of us know some Saudi students who are incredibly talented, but talent has to be guided, and parents and educators must share the blame for not doing this.

We have deprived these young people of knowledge and robbed them of their chances to enter the world arena. Instead of developing talent and individual initiative, we focus on statistics about graduates of high schools and universities.

In short, we have been churning out parrots, just as incapable of critical thought as their teachers have been incapable of teaching them.

I write this, and I am in pain. I love my country, and I believe in our youth. Given the right advice, proper education and incentive they could go ahead, but there is no one to guide them. Now to make matters worse, companies are being forced to hire them. This causes discomfort for both sides. To meet Saudization quotas, extra Saudi security guards are “hired.” I visited a hospital once and noticed there was literally an army of security guards. That hospital probably is better protected than the House of Parliament in London. As the Saudi guards shuffle around, the expatriate doctors, nurses and technicians whisk by doing the hospital work and dart between their Saudi security force.

I am serious. There has to be a national plan of reorientation. Let us provide our youth with the knowledge to at least enter the Saudi work force. And let my fellow media people stop attacking business and industrial owners. Go to the students attending educational institutions and the businesses who need workers and ask them what their needs are.

And those who are responsible for education should admit their mistakes, learn from them and come out with quick and proper solutions. If they can’t do that, we have to turn things over to people who can. A decision was made a long time ago to preserve our cultural heritage through education. It didn’t work, and both our culture and our young people now pay the price and run the risk of watching our prospects crumble as we essentially find ourselves hiring other people to take care of our needs and to think on our behalf.

We can shape our graduates to be the envy of other nations and to be chased by international companies, or we can wait for the Indian computer engineers to visit the Kingdom on their vacations so we can sell them Saudi souvenirs — probably made in China.

My prayer for the day is to give our children and our country the chance that both deserve.


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