AHMED ALZAHRANI

Saudi Arabia 2021 | G20 | INTERVIEW

As part of its G20 presidency, Saudi Arabia focused on safeguarding and promoting the interests of not just member populations, but also those around the world in such difficult times.

Ahmed Alzahrani
BIOGRAPHY

Ahmed Alzahrani has over 20 years of experience in the public and private sectors. He joined the Institute of Public administration as a faculty member, where he served many roles at IPA ranging from key administrative roles to academics posts. Among other positions, he was a senior advisor for strategy and research for the Capital Market Authority. More recently, he served as the labor deputy minister at the HR and Social Development Ministry for two years. In 2020, he assumed the role as Chair of the G20 Employment Group and Deputy for Skill and Training. He holds a PhD in business and finance from Brunel University London and has research interests and publications in public policy, behavioral economy, and financial markets.

You were recently appointed Deputy Minister for Skills and Training. Can you elaborate more on this role?

When the Labor Market Strategy was approved by the Council of Ministers early in 2021, we start working actively within the ministry and in coordination with other relevant public entities on the topic of skills, one of main pillars in the strategy. It is an important issue to address in terms of framework, policies, gaps, and incentives. We are currently working on setting up sectoral councils where all the relevant public and private entities engage and participate in terms of human resource planning and upskilling for the related sectors, which include setting occupational standards that enable training and education providers to build programs that meet market demand. Improving skills and productivity is crucial for our people and the labor market.

During the Saudi G20 presidency, you were the Chair for the Employment Working Group. Can you elaborate further on this?

As hosts of the G20 in 2020, our role was to lead the activity and agenda of the employment track throughout the presidency year. As chair, my role is to ensure a smooth journey for this including setting a clear agenda and objectives and through constant consultation and engagement with G20 members. You have to be on top of things all the time, and you need to be a good negotiator and a great listener. During the year, we held four group meetings and two ministerial meetings, which necessitated countless preparatory hours and meetings, both locally and internationally, just to make sure every meeting goes as planned. On top of that, you need to be strong technically on the topics you discuss and in labor market policies in general.

How did COVID-19 impact global labor markets, and what was the response of G20 countries?

We are witnessing, at an international level, businesses across various sectors impacted by catastrophic financial losses, more so among micro and small enterprises, while millions of workers are vulnerable to income reductions and job losses. Under the presidency of Saudi Arabia, we have joined together in unity and in the spirit of solidarity to consider the issues affecting individuals, families, communities, and societies, with a strong focus on mitigating the impact of COVID-19 on our labor markets and economies. We recognize our responsibility to safeguard and promote the interests not only of G20 populations, but also those beyond our own borders, within these times of unprecedented global challenge. This includes leading discussions on how to ensure that workers' rights are respected and that social protection systems develop to provide access to adequate support for all. The classification of workers' employment statuses has significant implications for workers' rights and access to adequate social protection for all. The COVID-19 crisis is disproportionally impacting youth, in particular young women, including loss of jobs, education and training opportunities, economic hardship, and potential damage to their long-term job and career prospects. We are committed to effectively and impactfully delivering steady and successful labor market entry and transitions, strengthening support for young people, and tackling the additional barriers faced by young women.

The pandemic has fundamentally changed labor across the globe. How has the ministry responded to this shift, and how have policies kept pace with the changes inherent in the pandemic?

The ministry's response was more than 16 initiatives, such as preserving jobs through the Saned program, a SAR9-billion initiative that pays up to 60% of employees' salaries for up to three months if their employers retain them. Other initiatives include incentives for firms and the relaxation of some requirements. The pandemic has also accelerated the use of technology at work. We have witnessed a huge increase of online meeting software and online training and other tools. Behavioral change is a great opportunity for firms, individuals, and the government to consider new opportunities and how best they can be utilized and regulated. ✖