Building the AI-ready workforce: A collaborative effort between government, tech companies and education providers

To follow the trend of future work, upskilling and reskilling, and digital transformation, we are posting a series of articles to analyze government policies and practices to learn how countries are taking strategies to build their workforce for these challenges. In the previous article, we examined how Singapore is helping mid-career PMETs to switch to the tech sector. Our second stop is Saudi Arabia.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has shown strong commitment to the implementation and development of AI as it seeks to diversify the economy, reduce the dependence on oil and shift away from public sector-driven welfare within a strategic framework called Saudi Vision 2030. According to estimates by PwC, the contribution of AI to the national economy in Saudi Arabia will reach US$135.2 bn by 2030, around 12.4% of its total GDP.

Saudi Vision 2030 comprises a host of ambitious targets for the labor market, including lowering the unemployment rate from 11.6% to 7% [1], increasing female participation from 22% to 30% [2], and bolstering the private sector with a special emphasis on small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to increase their contribution to GDP from 20% to 35% by 2030 [3].

Under Saudi Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia is spending heavily on the communication and information technology (ICT) sector. The International Data Corporation (IDC) predicts that spending on IT in Saudi Arabia will exceed $11 billion in 2021. In addition to Saudi Vision 2030, the Kingdom has launched its National Strategy for Data and Artificial Intelligence (NSDAI) and last year signed a series of partnership agreements with international tech companies last year to advance AI in Saudi Arabia. One of the key pillars of the NSDAI is to build an AI-ready workforce in the Kingdom.

The growing industry is putting high pressure on a domestic labor market that lacks a sufficiently large and experienced national ICT workforce. Saudi Arabia is highly reliant on expat workers, and many of its professionals, including most in ICT, are sourced internationally. This has hampered many private companies and especially SMEs due to high recruiting costs. Furthermore, as skilled talents are increasingly in short supply globally, Saudi Arabia needs to focus on its young domestic population.

With 60% of the population under 30 years of age in 2020, Saudi Arabia has one of the world’s youngest populations. However, youth employment remains low in the Kingdom, and 16% of Saudi youth between 20 and 24 are classified as NEET (not in education, employment or training) [4]. Several reports indicate that there is a notable gap between the future-proof skills requested in the labor market and those possessed by the young people, and that the Kingdom is lacking an effective skill matching mechanism. Current skills gaps include STEM skills (science, technology, engineering and math), soft skills, and industry-specific international skills due to a lack of vocational training [5]. Therefore, part of the NSDAI agenda is to provide professional AI training to Saudi university students, researchers and developers, as well as up- and reskilling opportunities that enable Saudis to utilize AI and data in both the public and private sectors. Programs including the National AI Capability Development Program and the National AI Talent Cultivation and Onboarding Program have already been set up by the government as a collaboration between tech partners and education providers to attract, develop and retain AI talent in Saudi Arabia with a target of creating 20,000 AI and data specialists and experts by 2030.

As countries embark on the journey of digital transformation, their governments and public employment services (PES) seek suitable solutions to support them in the increasingly important role they play in job matching, enhancing employability, addressing skill gaps and aligning education offerings with market needs. To learn about how assists PES in tackling these challenges, please visit our product site for PES or contact us at


[1] Readiness for the Future of Work, ATKearney and MISK.

[2] KSA Vision 2030: Strategic Objectives and Vision Realization Programs 61.

[3] KSA National Transformation Program Delivery Plan – 2018-2020

[4] International Labour Organization, ILOSTAT database.

[5] Building the talent pipeline in Saudi Arabia, City&Guilds Group