Building the skills base for Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia’s Technical & Vocational Training Corporation is Leading efforts to build the capabilities of the kingdom’s workforce for economic diversification

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Building the skills base for Saudi Arabia Alhussayen: TVTC is using learning technology to extend its teaching capabilities and reach more students. (ITP Images)
By  Mark Sutton Published  July 21, 2016

For many GCC countries, providing meaningful employment for their citizens has become a key priority, and with a large youth population, the issue is particularly in focus in Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom has undertaken numerous initiatives to address the need to create more jobs for citizens and to develop a workforce that fits the requirements of employers in the country.

One of the main government organisations which has been tasked with developing Saudi’s workforce is the Technical and Vocational Training Corporation. Established in 1980, to bring together all technical institutes and vocational training establishments in the Kingdom, the TVTC oversees training and employment to provide higher education outside the scope of universities and to ensure that Saudi job seekers have the qualifications and skills required to match the opportunities in the workplace. Today, the TVTC oversees 150 institutes including the Colleges of Technology, Girl’s Higher Technical Institutes and the Standard Technical Training Institute, along with focusing on collaboration with employers and developing statistical data on the employment market in Saudi.

Technology is playing an increasingly important role with the TVTC, both in helping to increase outreach to students and employers, and to improve analysis of workplace trends and progress towards employment objectives.

Sami O Alhussayen, assistant vice governor for IT, TVTC, said that the higher management of TVTC is committed to technology, and IT is having a transformative effect on its operations: “Things have shifted dramatically, we are talking about the digital era, and we are moving toward relying on technology more and more,” he said.

“That is a huge challenge, because it is not about automation of things, it is about how can you change our business model completely to be reliant on IT, to serve more people, with higher quality, and measure our performance.”

The TVTC has developed a number of technology-based initiatives, Alhussayen explained, which have focused on access to learning and employment, and understanding the market and results of education activities.

One of the main initiatives is the Teqani Job Portal, a specialised job-matching portal that enables graduate trainees of the TVTC, business and government entities, to match skilled personnel with job opportunities, and to provide a source of statistical data for strategic planning at the national level.

Teqani was developed inhouse by TVTC, in part in response to a low awareness of the TVTC and of the capabilities of graduates of its training programs. Since launch, over 19,000 graduates and 139 organisations have registered with the portal. In order to provide a trusted and verified source of information for all parties, businesses with job opportunities can register with the portal, and have their data automatically verified through integration with the Ministry of Commerce and Industry via the government service bus. Government organisations are similarly linked to the portal, and both sets of potential employers are then able to utilize a number of capabilities including comprehensive job posting, intelligent search for candidates, shortlisting of candidates and scheduling of interviews.

The Teqani portal plays an important role in raising awareness of TVTC graduates and creating a bridge to the market, Alhussayen said, as well as providing insight into the market to help direct efforts to get students into employment.

“Initially it started because we have students who are graduating and who faced some challenges in finding jobs. We wanted to track our graduates, so we built our BI. When we started that, we had about 16% of graduates unemployed, by doing just data cleansing, we reduced that to 13%,” he said.

“Now, since I know who is unemployed, what are the majors that they [hold], we can put plans in place for them to find jobs, with the help of the Ministry of Labor, and now we have reduced it to 7.8% unemployed.”

By shifting from paper to online systems, and through sources of data such as Teqani, the TVTC is now able to better analyse its data, and also to integrate with other sources of government and private data. This helped to increase the understanding of the market and the requirements of both the job seekers and employers.

“We started to analyse our data, which goes back to 1402 [1982] — over 30 years. We linked to Yesser, the e-government data bus, and now we are linked to a lot of Ministries, so we can provide them with information about our graduates, and we get information if any of our graduates are hired by these entities, if they open their own business, or they decide to pursue a Masters or PHD,” Alhussayen added. “There is an initiative now in Saudi Arabia, for open government data, and I think this will help a lot by participating in this, to enhance our work.”

One of the issues that has been highlighted by better analysis of the employment market is the requirement for ongoing education and training of the workforce, and better access to training opportunities, Alhussayen noted. The TVTC has been providing e-learning in combination with classroom learning — ‘blended learning’ — for some time, but it is now investing in the shift to purely online learning with the launch of MOOCs — Massive Open Online Courses.

MOOCs are purely available online, mainly through video content and online certification, and are intended to increase the TVTC’s reach to students, including people who are already working, or to under-served sectors of society such as retired people. As an online course, the training is not limited by the physical classroom capacity of the TVTC, and learners can follow courses at their own speed and by focusing on areas that are relevant to their careers, which will help with increasing the capabilities of the existing workforce and enabling people to switch careers or add new skills.

“We cannot accommodate everyone in our classes, and the market is shifting,” Alhussayen said. “I may train people and they will work for three to five years, but if there is a demand from another field I cannot bring them back to study for another Diploma or Bachelor, so we have started thinking about how we can utilize the technology in solving these problems.

“Students can learn from the MOOC, and attend any one of our colleges to take tests. This will help both that we don’t have any limitations on how many seats we have available in a class, but it will also impact the nation, because I may be working now, I don’t have the time to go and get my education to get more degrees, or even change my career.”

The TVTC has built up its IT infrastructure to support the delivery of MOOCs, including redundancy in the data centre and connectivity, he added, to ensure smooth delivery of training, and the TVTC is using the Open edX platform, developed by MIT, to deliver the courses. The initial MOOCs on offer include technical courses such as systems administration, network administration, multimedia production, and video graphics, and the TVTC intends to expand on this as it gains experience with MOOCs. The TVTC will offer micro- and nano-degrees, courses which are highly focused on specific professional or career disciplines.

While there has been some criticism of MOOCs because students often don’t complete the courses, Alhussayen said that the TVTC sees them as a good means to reach new learners.

“With MOOCs, there is no direct interaction, but the experience on edX, Coursera, Lynda, Udacity has proven the success of this, MIT and Stanford have done a good job in studying this. At the moment, I have 100,000 students in TVTC; if I open this [MOOC], and I have one million registered, but only 10% complete, then I have still doubled our capacity,” he said.

Along with increased online offerings, the TVTC is also looking to a new technology platform to increase employment opportunities in the Kingdom. The second phase of employability is a freelance platform which is intended to open up the market for temporary and project-based jobs and to connect employers who are looking for specific work with Saudis that have the skills and ability to deliver these jobs outside of the usual framework of full-time employment.

The portal will be open to anyone in Saudi Arabia, to develop the freelance sector, which Alhussayen says accounts for around 30% of all jobs in markets like the US. Through creating a portal to match work and expertise, TVTC believes it can contribute to an employment market that will be worth around 2% of the country’s GDP.

“We want to introduce people to freelancing as a way to make money,” he explained. “We live in the era of start-ups and entrepreneurial jobs, about 30-40% of jobs are freelancing. I think the government has done a good job in providing traditional jobs, either through people working through the government or through Saudisation programs like Nitaqat and the others; but we need to open other opportunities, which is our focus, for people to develop their own work.”

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