The implementation of job nationalization poses initial challenges, but Saudization is vital to the country’s long-term economic growth and will lead to significant benefits over the coming years, according to Nathan Waugh, event director of The Big 5 Saudi, Middle East Concrete.
“Saudi nationals will gain enhanced skill sets, which in turn will benefit private sector companies operating in the country,” Waugh told Arab News in an exclusive interview.
“Also, Saudization will lead to lower remittances being sent abroad by expatriate workers. With more money in domestic circulation supporting demand for local products and services, economic growth will continue, leading to further construction demand,” Waugh said.
Asked about the impact of job nationalization policies on the Saudi construction and infrastructure market, Waugh said in its continued bid to reduce unemployment among locals, the Saudi government had levied fees against companies that did not meet certain quotas, leading to a temporary labor shortfall.
In 2013, these fees cost Saudi Arabia about SR15 billion, according to projections by NCB Capital. Over the short term, the construction sector will be the hardest hit, as it accounts for just under half of the total private sector jobs.
As of 2013, an estimated 90,000 of contracts have been canceled due to temporary labor shortages, chiefly among smaller firms operating at smaller margins, Waugh added.
Saudi Arabia continues to see phenomenal year-on-year growth. The country has seen a steady expansion of its construction sector as the market in many other countries has struggled. The government has actually increased its investments to the various ministries involved in construction and infrastructure development over the past several years, a trend which shows no sign of reversing, Waugh added.
Power and transport, for instance, are two of the biggest industry sectors for the construction industry at present, as the country looks to increase the reliability and capacity of its infrastructure. Big projects are under way, including the Shaqiq Power Plant, south of Jeddah, as well as significant rail projects, such as the Riyadh Metro — currently the biggest project in the region. These and others will continue to provide opportunities for years to come, Waugh said.
In addition, he added, general construction features prominently across the Kingdom. He said that a number of high-level projects under way, including local housing initiatives in many regions.
The global draw of the Saudi market is highlighted at The Big 5 Saudi event by the number of international companies who come to exhibit their products and innovations, Waugh said, adding that visitors are able to source the very latest solutions from around the world that can be utilized to drive forward construction locally.
Speaking about the Saudi construction market and the expectations for 2014, he said: “The Saudi construction industry is one that has been of continual influence in the region over recent years, and this momentum and opportunity is expected to continue. With an estimated $94,147 million of projects confirmed for 2014, much of this spend will be focused on the western region of the country, for which Jeddah is the key hub.”
An event like The Big 5 provides a universal platform that really helps to facilitate these opportunities and showcase the latest products and solutions that can help drive the industry forward.
“We have seen significant growth in interest from international companies looking to exhibit at the event, and put forward the very best innovation and technology to the local construction sector,” Waugh said.
Asked about the challenges and opportunities ahead for organizers of major exhibitions and conferences in Saudi Arabia, Waugh said: “Jeddah has been a fantastic host city for us, and we work closely with our partners MICE Arabia to organize and host the event annually.”
Having grown so quickly, he said The Big 5 Saudi now encompasses the entire space of the Jeddah International Fairs and Exhibition Center, as well as a purpose built arena constructed onsite for the event, to double the available venue space.
“Certainly demand is growing and to accommodate this we have included additional features in the event this year. They will include a series of educational seminars for the first time with local, regional and international experts from across the industry presenting their views on the latest trends and challenges, sharing best practice and taking part in panel discussions,” he added.
The seminars will all run under the overarching theme of sustainable construction, from materials, architecture and master planning, to presentations on best practice, including the King Abdullah University for Science & Technology (KAUST) and the White Sky iHouse, a revolutionary new concept that connects electro-mobility to zero and plus energy houses.
Waugh also said: “This event is different (from others) because we aim to bring as much added value for visitors as possible. With this in mind we will also be hosting a selection of three USGBC certified LEED workshops including a session highlighting the new LEED version 4, which was launched in November 2013 — critical intelligence for all modern construction professionals. Completing the educational lineup will be a full day free to attend concrete repair workshop, providing up to date information from international thought leaders.”
Waugh added: “We will also have live demonstrations from exhibitors taking place in a dedicated arena, with products being presented in an ‘as live’ environment, as well as the return of the Platinum Club, which brings together the top industry buyers and provides fast track access for the most relevant and influential visitors to the event.”
This year’s Big 5 Saudi will be the largest construction exhibition ever held in the western region.
It will offer buyers the chance to view the industry’s most innovative construction products from all over the world, many of which will be seen for the first time in the Kingdom.
The Big 5 event in Dubai has been running for more than 30 years, and is a must-attend event within the region’s construction calendar.
“The Big 5 has gained a solid reputation for its educational opportunities, which provide investors and contracts with a unique glimpse into the region’s challenges and opportunities,” Waugh said.
“Although, naturally, the events in Dubai and Saudi Arabia have similar features and are closely aligned, we launched The Big 5 Saudi in 2011 as a result of local demand for a platform that is specific to the market landscape there,” he said.
“This event brings products and opportunities directly to the Saudi market,” Waugh said.
He said exhibitors showcase the latest products and solutions that can help drive the construction industry’s rapid growth forward, while visitors have the chance to source innovative technology.
The Big 5 Saudi will feature more than 500 exhibitors, with 34 countries participating and national pavilions from Germany, Italy, Greece, China and Turkey, among others, providing attendees the chance to discover opportunities, identify solutions and network with key industry players from across the globe, Waugh said.
“The breadth and diversity of international products is something no other event can deliver and it will enable our buyers to source the most suitable products for their current projects,” Waugh said.
“The industry will have the opportunity to find out the latest products from all sectors of the construction industry and source the most efficient and effective solutions to support projects from infrastructure to transport, residential development to power,” he said.
“The Big 5 Saudi is definitely a must-attend industry platform,” he added.