Symposium on Evidence-Based Policy Design for the Saudi Arabian Labor Market

On May 2nd, Evidence for Policy Design (EPoD) and the Saudi Human Resources Development Fund (HRDF) co-hosted the second research symposium on Evidence-Based Policy Design for the Saudi Labor Market in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The symposium highlighted significant labor market findings from research projects developed through the collaboration between EPoD and HRDF. Mr. Samer Al Rayyan, the Deputy Director General for the National Labor Observatory at HRDF, championed the event, which brought together more than 60 academics and senior policymakers, including Dr. Abdullah Abuthnain, Vice Minister of Labor & Social Development, at HRDF Headquarters in the Olaya Towers.

The event kicked off with introductory remarks by Dr. Abuthnain and Mr. Al Rayyan, both of whom commended the value of the collaboration between EPoD and HRDF, as well as the value of research developed through the collaboration to help achieve the goals of the National Transformation Program and Vision 2030. Their remarks were followed by EPoD’s Senior Program Manager for the Middle East and North Africa, Juanmanuel Garcia-Sanchez, who highlighted key achievements of the collaboration and next steps for the engagement, including the recent launch of the Round 3 Request-for-Proposals to fund high-potential research projects.

The main focus of the event, however, was the presentation of ongoing and recently developed research projects supported by the engagement. The presentations were led by a remarkable group of researchers whose research addressed a variety of different aspects of the labor market in Saudi Arabia.

Dr. Nada Eissa from Georgetown University opened the Symposium’s main event with a glimpse at her research on public pension schemes, noting that in Saudi Arabia high wages generally lead to retirement prior to pension eligibility, despite the fact that the social security system is designed such that those who retire early essentially leave money on the table.

Senior
Program Manager Jawaher Al-Sudairy presented on commute costs and its impact on female employment. She engaged the audience to participate in a quick survey regarding their commute choice to the symposium, highlighting that attendees primarily utilized private drivers or ride sharing services. Her research fellow, Chaza Abou Daher, presented their assessment of the local context for commuter options, finding that jobseekers experienced higher commute costs than anticipated. Additionally, they have found that the high cost of transportation destabilizes employment opportunities in Saudi, especially for women.

Prof. Faiyaz Doctor and his Research Assistant Dr. Diogo Alvez from the University of Essex outlined their efforts to create a computational model of the Saudi Labor Market without interventions. They explained how the computational representation they are creating will allow policymakers to learn incentive structures, and enable simulation and testing of potential labor market policies.

Dr. Jamal Haidar of Harvard’s Center for International Development discussed his current research with EPoD Director and Harvard Kennedy School Prof. Asim I. Khwaja to identify how to enhance the personalized skill acquisition process for users of Doroob, the e-learning platform of the Saudi Ministry of Labor. The goal of this assessment is to help users make more informed decisions about education, trainings, and other mechanisms to attain the skills necessary to succeed in the modern job market.

To close the symposium presentations, the University of Chicago’s
Dr. Alessandra Gonzalez presented her research seeking to identify misaligned goals between graduate students and employers that impede youth labor force participation in Saudi Arabia. By studying both the supply and demand perspectives, Dr. Gonzalez will assess how to improve policies with a better understanding of the preferences of Saudi graduates and hiring managers.

Throughout all presentations, participants were highly engaged, asking the researchers probing questions to better understand and conceptualize the implications of their findings in relation to Saudi policy.

Following the symposium’s main event, HRDF and EPoD hosted two workshops to inform researchers and practitioners on the open
Request for Proposal (RFP) process and to provide an overview of empirical methods needed in developing proposals. Ms. Al Sudairy and Ms. Abou Daher, along with EPoD Research Fellow Yaser Alhusaini, provided an overview of empirical research methods and outlined expectations of methodology rigor for those submitting research proposals in the RFP.

With the current RFP underway, the selection committee, representing leading academic researchers and HRDF policymakers, will prepare to evaluate a new set of project proposals in the coming months. With strong ongoing momentum reinforced through the symposium, EPoD looks forward to collaborating with new and existing research teams in the development of rigorous research for meaningful policy impact.