Private Sector Labor Force in Saudi Arabia

The private sector labor force in Saudi Arabia is a dynamic and crucial component of the nation’s economy. As of 2022, the private sector labor force in Saudi Arabia has reached its highest rate in …

Private Sector Labor Force in Saudi Arabia

The private sector labor force in Saudi Arabia is a dynamic and crucial component of the nation’s economy. As of 2022, the private sector labor force in Saudi Arabia has reached its highest rate in the country’s history, with about 2.2 million Saudi men and women working in the private sector. The labor market in Saudi Arabia is experiencing a rapid transformation, with Saudi nationals, particularly women, joining the labor market at unprecedented rates.

In this comprehensive study, we delve deep into the various facets of the private sector labor force in Saudi Arabia, exploring its definition, significance, composition, challenges, and future prospects.

What is Private Sector Labor Force?

Private Sector Labor Force in Saudi Arabia
Private Sector Labor Force in Saudi Arabia

The private sector labor force refers to the collective group of individuals who are employed by privately-owned businesses and organizations in a country. These privately-owned entities operate independently of the government and include a wide array of industries such as manufacturing, construction, healthcare, retail, finance, and more.

This workforce comprises both Saudi nationals and expatriates, making it diverse in terms of demographics, skills, and backgrounds. Employees in the private sector are typically compensated through wages, salaries, and benefits provided by their respective employers, rather than being directly employed by the government.

The 2018Q2 Labor Force survey showed that out of 787,895 million unemployed Saudis, around 40% are women, with college-educated women being the largest group. In Saudi Arabia, 80% of registered private sector jobs are occupied by expats. The total number of non-national employed workers in the private sector of Saudi Arabia totaled around 6.17 million workers in 2021

Importance of Studying the Private Sector Labor Force in Saudi Arabia

Studying the private sector labor force in Saudi Arabia is of paramount importance for several reasons:

  1. Economic Growth: The private sector plays a pivotal role in driving economic growth in Saudi Arabia. It contributes significantly to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) through various industries and businesses. Understanding the dynamics of this labor force is essential for gauging the health and potential of the country’s economy.
  2. Employment Opportunities: The private sector is a significant source of employment in Saudi Arabia. It offers a multitude of job opportunities for both Saudi citizens and expatriates. An in-depth study can shed light on job creation trends, which are crucial for addressing unemployment issues and ensuring a stable workforce.
  3. Diversification: Saudi Arabia is actively working to diversify its economy and reduce its reliance on oil revenues. The private sector is at the forefront of this diversification effort. By studying the private sector labor force, policymakers and stakeholders can gain insights into the progress made in diversifying the economy and identify areas that require further development.

Purpose and Scope of the Study

The purpose and scope of the study on the private sector labor force in Saudi Arabia encompass several key objectives:

  1. Understanding Workforce Composition: The study aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of the composition of the private sector labor force in terms of demographics, including the proportion of Saudi nationals and expatriates, age groups, and educational backgrounds.
  2. Assessing Economic Impact: It seeks to assess the economic impact of the private sector labor force, including its contribution to GDP, job creation, and its role in reducing unemployment rates.
  3. Identifying Challenges: The study intends to identify and analyze the challenges faced by the private sector labor force, such as labor market dynamics, skills gaps, wage disparities, and issues related to the expatriate workforce.
  4. Exploring Government Initiatives: The scope includes exploring the various government-led initiatives and reforms, such as Saudization programs, training schemes, and incentives, designed to enhance the private sector labor force’s performance and growth.
  5. Evaluating COVID-19 Impact: Given the global pandemic’s significant impact on economies, the study will evaluate how COVID-19 has affected the private sector labor force in the short and long term and assess the response and recovery efforts.
  6. Looking Towards the Future: Lastly, the study will analyze future trends and outlook for the private sector labor force, including anticipated changes in employment, technological advancements, and opportunities for growth.

Private Sector Labor Force in Saudi Arabia

Size and Composition

The size and composition of the private sector labor force in Saudi Arabia are fundamental factors in understanding the workforce dynamics within the country.

  • Size: Saudi Arabia’s private sector labor force is substantial. It encompasses millions of individuals who are employed by privately-owned businesses and organizations across various industries. The exact number can vary over time due to economic conditions, government policies, and global events.
  • Composition: This labor force is diverse in terms of demographics. It includes both Saudi nationals and expatriates. The proportion of Saudi nationals within the private sector labor force has been a key focus of government initiatives like Saudization. These efforts aim to increase the participation of Saudi citizens in the private sector. Expatriates, on the other hand, bring a wide range of skills and expertise to various industries, contributing significantly to the workforce.

Read Also: What is Ajeer in Saudi Arabia?

Trends in private sector employment in Saudi Arabia provide insights into the changing dynamics of the labor market. These trends often reflect broader economic, social, and policy developments.

  • Growth: Over the years, there has been a noticeable growth in private sector employment. This growth is influenced by several factors, including government efforts to diversify the economy, encourage investment, and promote entrepreneurship. As the private sector expands, it creates more job opportunities for both Saudi nationals and expatriates.
  • Saudization: One of the prominent trends in recent years is Saudization, a policy initiative that encourages private sector companies to hire more Saudi nationals. This program has led to an increase in the employment of Saudi citizens across various industries.
  • Economic Conditions: The health of the private sector labor force is closely tied to economic conditions in Saudi Arabia. Factors such as oil prices, economic reforms, and global economic trends can influence employment patterns.

Key Industries in the Private Sector

The private sector in Saudi Arabia encompasses a wide range of industries, each contributing to the country’s economic growth and diversity.

  • Manufacturing: Manufacturing industries in Saudi Arabia include petrochemicals, automotive, electronics, and more. These industries produce goods for both domestic consumption and export.
  • Construction: The construction sector plays a pivotal role in infrastructure development and urbanization. It involves the construction of residential, commercial, and industrial facilities.
  • Healthcare: Healthcare services, including hospitals, clinics, and pharmaceutical companies, are essential components of the private sector, contributing to the well-being of the population.
  • Information Technology: The IT sector has been growing rapidly, with companies involved in software development, IT services, and digital innovation.
  • Finance: The financial sector includes banking, insurance, and investment companies, facilitating economic transactions and providing financial services to individuals and businesses.

Read Also: Career Opportunities for Expats in Saudi Arabia

Factors Influencing the Private Sector Labor Force

A. Economic Factors

Economic factors significantly impact the private sector labor force in Saudi Arabia. These factors can determine the overall health and growth of the private sector workforce.

  • Economic Conditions: The state of the economy, including factors such as GDP growth, inflation, and economic stability, directly affects private sector employment. In periods of economic growth, businesses tend to expand and hire more workers. Conversely, during economic downturns, businesses may cut back on hiring or even lay off employees.
  • Oil Prices: Given Saudi Arabia’s reliance on oil revenues, fluctuations in oil prices can have a profound impact on the private sector labor force. High oil prices can lead to increased government spending and investment in various sectors, indirectly benefiting the private sector. Conversely, low oil prices may prompt fiscal constraints, affecting private sector growth.
  • Investment Climate: The attractiveness of Saudi Arabia as an investment destination plays a crucial role. Favorable investment conditions can lead to increased foreign and domestic investment, spurring business growth and job creation in the private sector.

B. Government Policies and Regulations

Government policies and regulations have a direct and often deliberate influence on the private sector labor force in Saudi Arabia.

  • Saudization: One of the most significant policy initiatives is Saudization, which encourages the hiring of Saudi nationals in the private sector. This policy aims to reduce unemployment among Saudis and increase their participation in the workforce.
  • Workforce Regulations: Labor laws, including regulations related to wages, working hours, and benefits, can impact the cost of labor and influence hiring decisions by businesses.
  • Business Licensing and Regulations: Government regulations related to business licensing, permits, and taxation can affect the ease of doing business in Saudi Arabia, which, in turn, influences private sector growth and employment.

C. Demographic Factors

Demographic factors, including the composition of the population, are vital in shaping the private sector labor force.

  • Youth Bulge: Saudi Arabia has a significant youth population. The “youth bulge” can lead to increased demand for jobs and can influence workforce dynamics. Efforts to provide education, training, and employment opportunities for the youth are critical.
  • Educational Attainment: The level of education among the workforce can impact the types of jobs available in the private sector. Aligning education and skills development with industry needs is essential to meet labor market demands.

D. Global Influences

Global influences, such as international economic conditions and geopolitical factors, can have ripple effects on the private sector labor force in Saudi Arabia.

  • Global Economic Trends: Trends in the global economy, including trade agreements, economic crises, and shifts in global demand, can affect industries in Saudi Arabia that rely on international markets.
  • Geopolitical Stability: Political stability in the region and relations with neighboring countries can influence business confidence and investment decisions, impacting the private sector’s growth and employment prospects.
  • Oil Market Dynamics: Saudi Arabia’s position as a major oil producer makes it susceptible to changes in the global oil market. Fluctuations in oil prices can have cascading effects on the economy and, consequently, the private sector labor force.

Read Also: How Can I Find a Job in Saudi Arabia?

The Challenges

A. Labor Market Challenges

Labor market challenges encompass a range of issues that affect both job seekers and employers within the private sector.

  • Mismatch of Skills and Jobs: One of the key challenges is the mismatch between the skills possessed by job seekers and the skills demanded by employers. This can result in high unemployment rates and difficulty for businesses in finding qualified candidates.
  • Job Market Dynamics: The private sector job market can be competitive, making it challenging for job seekers, especially young Saudis entering the workforce, to secure stable employment.
  • Seasonal and Temporary Employment: In some industries, jobs may be seasonal or temporary, leading to job insecurity and a lack of long-term career prospects for workers.
  • Labor Mobility: Limited labor mobility, including restrictions on job changes and geographic mobility, can hinder workers’ ability to seek better opportunities.

B. Skills and Education Gap

The skills and education gap is a crucial challenge that affects workforce productivity and the overall competitiveness of the private sector.

  • Skills Shortages: Certain industries may face shortages of skilled workers, which can hamper growth and innovation.
  • Educational System: Misalignment between the education system and the demands of the job market can result in graduates who lack the practical skills and qualifications needed by employers.
  • Continuous Learning: Rapid technological advancements require ongoing learning and upskilling. Ensuring that the workforce can adapt to new technologies and methods is a challenge.

C. Wage Disparities

Wage disparities within the private sector labor force can lead to issues related to fairness, job satisfaction, and employee retention.

  • Saudi vs. Expatriate Wages: Wage disparities between Saudi national employees and expatriates doing similar jobs can lead to tensions and inequities in the workplace.
  • Minimum Wage: Establishing and enforcing minimum wage standards can be challenging, especially in sectors where wages are low.
  • Gender Wage Gap: Gender-based wage disparities persist in some industries and need to be addressed to promote gender equality in the workforce.

D. Expatriate Workforce Issues

The presence of a significant expatriate workforce in Saudi Arabia brings about unique challenges:

  • Dependence on Expatriate Labor: Some industries are heavily reliant on expatriate workers, leading to concerns about job security and economic dependence on foreign labor.
  • Legal and Labor Rights: Ensuring that expatriate workers are aware of and protected by their legal and labor rights is essential to prevent exploitation and maintain a fair labor market.
  • Cultural and Language Differences: Cultural and language barriers between Saudi and expatriate workers can pose challenges in workplace communication and integration.
  • Nationalization Efforts: While Saudization aims to increase the employment of Saudi nationals, it must be implemented carefully to minimize disruptions in industries that rely on expatriate expertise.

Addressing these challenges requires a coordinated effort from government agencies, businesses, educational institutions, and other stakeholders. Policies and programs focused on skill development, labor market reform, and improving working conditions are essential to create a more inclusive and competitive private sector labor force in Saudi Arabia.

Read Also: Expat Entrepreneurship Opportunities in Saudi Arabia

Impact of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic had both immediate and long-term effects on the private sector labor force in Saudi Arabia. While it brought challenges such as layoffs and economic downturns, it also accelerated digital transformation and emphasized the need for economic resilience. The response and recovery efforts aimed to mitigate these challenges and foster a more adaptable and resilient private sector labor force.

A. Short-term Effects

The short-term effects of COVID-19 on the private sector labor force in Saudi Arabia were significant and immediate:

  • Layoffs and Reduced Hours: Many businesses faced financial strains due to lockdowns and reduced economic activity. As a result, some companies had to implement layoffs, furloughs, or reduced working hours to cut costs.
  • Economic Downturn: The pandemic-induced economic downturn led to decreased consumer demand, affecting businesses across various industries, including retail, hospitality, and tourism. This, in turn, affected employment levels.
  • Remote Work Transition: To mitigate the spread of the virus, many businesses had to quickly transition to remote work arrangements, especially for jobs that could be performed online. This shift impacted the nature of work for many employees.
  • Increased Demand in Certain Sectors: On the flip side, sectors like healthcare, e-commerce, and technology experienced increased demand, leading to job opportunities in these industries.

B. Long-term Implications

The long-term implications of COVID-19 on the private sector labor force in Saudi Arabia extend beyond the immediate crisis:

  • Digital Transformation: The pandemic accelerated the digital transformation of many businesses. Companies adopted new technologies and processes, leading to a demand for workers with digital skills. This trend is likely to continue, reshaping the job market.
  • Changes in Workplace Culture: Remote work, which became widespread during the pandemic, may continue to be a viable option for many employees. This could lead to a shift in workplace culture and expectations.
  • Economic Resilience: The pandemic underscored the importance of economic diversification. Saudi Arabia’s efforts to diversify its economy away from oil dependency may intensify, creating opportunities in non-oil sectors.
  • Skill Requirements: New skill requirements may emerge as industries adapt to the post-pandemic landscape. Workers may need to upskill or reskill to remain competitive in the job market.

Response and Recovery Efforts

Saudi Arabia implemented various measures to respond to the COVID-19 crisis and aid in recovery:

  • Economic Stimulus Packages: The government introduced economic stimulus packages to support businesses, including grants, subsidies, and low-interest loans. These measures aimed to help businesses retain employees and stay afloat during the crisis.
  • Remote Work Support: To facilitate remote work, the government encouraged the adoption of digital technologies and provided support for businesses to establish secure remote work environments.
  • Vaccination Campaign: A robust vaccination campaign was launched to curb the spread of the virus and expedite the return to normalcy. Vaccination efforts have been vital in restoring consumer confidence and reviving sectors like tourism.
  • Investment in Healthcare: The pandemic highlighted the importance of a strong healthcare infrastructure. Investments in healthcare facilities and training of medical professionals have been ongoing to better respond to future health crises.

Read Also: Working as an Expat in the Oil Industry in Saudi Arabia

Anticipated Changes in Private Sector Employment

The future trends in private sector employment in Saudi Arabia are expected to be shaped by various factors:

  • Diversification of Industries: As Saudi Arabia continues its efforts to diversify its economy away from oil dependency, there will likely be an expansion of non-oil sectors. This diversification will create new employment opportunities in industries such as renewable energy, tourism, entertainment, and technology.
  • Saudization Initiatives: The government’s Saudization initiatives are likely to continue, aiming to increase the proportion of Saudi nationals in the private sector workforce. This may result in more job openings for Saudi citizens, especially in sectors that have historically relied heavily on expatriate labor.
  • Skills in High Demand: There will be a growing demand for workers with skills in technology, data analysis, artificial intelligence, and digital marketing. These skills will be essential as businesses increasingly rely on technology and data-driven decision-making.
  • Remote Work: The experience gained during the COVID-19 pandemic may lead to the continued adoption of remote work arrangements, allowing for more flexible employment options and potentially tapping into a broader talent pool.

Technological Advancements and Automation

Technological advancements and automation are poised to play a significant role in shaping the private sector labor force in Saudi Arabia:

  • Increased Automation: Automation technologies, such as robotics and artificial intelligence, will likely be more widely adopted across industries, particularly in manufacturing and logistics. This may lead to changes in job roles and the need for employees to adapt to working alongside automation.
  • Upskilling and Reskilling: As automation replaces certain routine tasks, there will be a growing emphasis on upskilling and reskilling the workforce to take on more advanced roles that involve managing and working alongside automated systems.
  • Cybersecurity: With increased reliance on technology, the demand for cybersecurity experts is expected to rise. Protecting sensitive data and digital infrastructure will be a priority for businesses.

Opportunities for Growth

Despite challenges, opportunities for growth in the private sector labor force are anticipated:

  • Emerging Industries: Emerging sectors such as green technology, renewable energy, and entertainment are expected to create new job opportunities as Saudi Arabia invests in these areas to diversify its economy.
  • International Partnerships: Collaborations and partnerships with international businesses and organizations may lead to job opportunities in sectors with global relevance, including technology, research, and development.
  • Entrepreneurship: Support for entrepreneurship and small businesses is likely to grow, fostering an environment where startups and innovative ventures can thrive, leading to job creation.
  • Globalization: As Saudi businesses expand their global reach, there may be more opportunities for workers in areas such as international marketing, logistics, and cross-border trade.


The private sector labor force in Saudi Arabia is integral to the nation’s economic growth and diversification. Overcoming challenges and leveraging the potential of this workforce is essential for the country’s continued development.

Read Also: What are the most popular industries for expats in Saudi Arabia


  1. What percentage of Saudi Arabia’s workforce is employed in the private sector?The private sector employs a significant portion of Saudi Arabia’s workforce, contributing to a diversified economy. Exact percentages may vary over time.
  2. How has Saudization impacted the private sector labor force?Saudization has led to an increase in the employment of Saudi nationals in the private sector, reducing the reliance on expatriate labor.
  3. What are the key industries within Saudi Arabia’s private sector?Saudi Arabia’s private sector encompasses industries such as manufacturing, construction, healthcare, and information technology.
  4. How did COVID-19 affect the private sector labor force in Saudi Arabia?COVID-19 disrupted operations, resulting in layoffs and accelerated digitalization and automation trends in some industries.
  5. What are the future growth opportunities for the private sector labor force in Saudi Arabia?Future growth opportunities include emerging industries, technological advancements, and global partnerships, which will create new job prospects and career paths.

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