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Uncovering the Dynamics of the Saudi Youth Unemployment Crisis


This paper explores a systems thinking approach to the persistent and urgent issue of youth unemployment in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a complex problem given the unique social contract between government and citizens in the Kingdom. Generations of government-dependent Saudi nationals have come of age in recent decades, unfit for private sector needs and unprepared for its realities. Attempts to force this population into the private workforce are futile, resisted by Saudi workers and by private sector employers. The authors present a systems map inclusive of employment trends, education, and social dynamics, whose interactions undermine employment among Saudi youth. This mental model indicates that unemployment among this particular demographic is exacerbated by increased government spending on education, and by government-initiated measures aimed at protecting Saudi nationals in the private sector. Uncovering an archetypal systems thinking relationship between major stakeholders, that of accidental adversaries, the authors present the first steps towards modeling solutions.

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  1. 1.

    While social contracts are borne of political, economic, socio-historical, cultural, and other influences, the legal-administrative basis for the Saudi social contract is the official Saudi Basic System of Governance. This document sets forth parameters for the relationship between government and citizenry. Articles relevant to employment include: The state will aspire to strengthen family ties, maintain its Arab and Islamic values and care for all its members, and provide the right conditions for the growth of their resources and capabilities [Article 10].

    All God’s bestowed wealth, be it under the ground, on the surface or in national territorial waters, in the land or maritime domains under state control, are the property of the state as defined by law. The law defines means of exploiting, protecting, and developing such wealth in the interests of the state, its security and economy [Article 14].

    The state guarantees the rights of the citizen and his family in cases of emergency, illness and disability, and in old age; it supports the system of social security and encourages institutions and individuals to contribute in acts of charity [Article 27].

  2. 2.

    Article 28 of the Saudi Basic System of Governance, states: “The state provides job opportunities for who-ever is capable of working; it enacts laws that protect the employee and employer.”.

  3. 3.

    Joshua Landis, head of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma.

  4. 4.

    The World Economic Forum report titled “Rethinking Arab Employment: A systemic Approach for Recourse-Endowed Economies” provided critical insight.

  5. 5.

    To fulfill government-imposed quotas on national hires, some companies maintain recruitment of nationals’ staff information on paper that does not correspond to actual employees but meet Saudization quotas.

  6. 6.

    Donella H. Meadows is a pioneering American environmental scientist, teacher, and writer. Meadows is lead author of the influential book The Limits to Growth and Thinking in Systems: a Primer.


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Correspondence to Luay M. Assidmi.

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Assidmi, L.M., Wolgamuth, E. Uncovering the Dynamics of the Saudi Youth Unemployment Crisis. Syst Pract Action Res 30, 173–186 (2017).

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  • Policy Resistance
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Social Programs
  • Systems Thinking
  • Unemployment
  • Youth