Young Saudis now have the option of choosing from among a large number of vocational and technical training institutes to acquire specialized skills.

As Saudi Arabia looks toward building a bright and secure future for its thousands of young people, it has established numerous schools for vocational and technical training. These institutes provide instruction in a variety of fields, creating new opportunities for the generation that will carry the nation forward into the next century.

Beginning with the first Five Year Development Plan in 1970, the Kingdom started building specialized schools to meet the growing need for highly skilled technical manpower in all of the nation's expanding industries. For many years, as Saudi Arabia began implementing a massive national effort to build a modern infrastructure to support sustained socio-economic growth, it had to rely to a large extent on labor recruited from outside the Kingdom. However, reliance on foreign manpower has steadily declined in recent years, as thousands of Saudis have graduated from numerous technical and vocational programs. These programs form the backbone of the Saudization of the work force, which is being undertaken by the government with the full cooperation of the private sector.

Several programs have been put in place at government and private levels to train young people with special aptitudes for work in specific trades or occupations. Both the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs have allocated significant resources to this effort, as have regional chambers of commerce and industry, as well as the General Organization for Technical Education and Vocational Training (GOTEVT). The results have been outstanding. Technical and vocational school enrollment has increased 29-fold over the last 26 years. Figures from 1995 put cumulative registration at the nation's technical schools at 28,972 students and 9,653 at vocational institutes. Saudis now hold positions at every level in government, corporations and small businesses.

Perhaps one of the most significant factors in the success of these programs and specialized institutes has been the shift in the public's attitude towards manual labor in the Kingdom. Careers in these fields are now more attractive to young people because of the abundance of available jobs and competitive salaries. There is security in having a practical trade. Manual labor is also spoken of as honest and decent work in the Sunnah (teachings and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad): "A man came to the Prophet, begging him for anything to live on. The Prophet gave him an ax and a rope and ordered him to collect some wood and sell it and live by its price." All of these factors have contributed to the shift in outlook on such professions.

The Ministry of Education, in particular, has worked towards expanding the options of the nation's youth. During the Fifth Development Plan (1990-1994), the Ministry spent 153 billion Saudi riyals (40.8 billion U.S. dollars) on over 4,000 education programs affecting 4.5 million students at all scholastic levels throughout the country.

At the six colleges of technology run by GOTEVT, students enroll in specialized programs which are normally two academic years in length, during which they take 90 credit hours of course work. These diploma programs are offered in Riyadh, Jeddah, Dammam, Buraidah, Abha and Al-Hasa.

At the Riyadh College, there are eight different technical specialties and two commercial ones from which students may choose. Technical specialties are offered in the fields of Production Technology, Auto Electricity Technology, Electrical Equipment Technology, Electrical Installation and Planning Technology. Other specialties include Industrial Electronics Technology, Chemical Labs Technology, Auto Control Technology and Industrial Production Technology. The two areas of commercial study are Computerized Accountancy and Office Administration. Riyadh College also offers some bachelor degree programs for students who want to be teachers in Electronics Technology, Production Technology, Auto/Engine Technology and Electrical Technology.

At the technical colleges in Jeddah and Dammam, students may enroll in Auto Mechanics, Auto Control Technology, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Technology, Computer Technology specialties and Electrical Installation. Commercial programs include Computerized Accountancy and Office Administration.

At Al-Hasa and Buraidah, the technical colleges offer training in such fields as Pneumatic and Hydraulic Control Technology, Computer Technology, Auto Control and Safety, Computerized Accountancy and Office Administration. Abha College also offers Construction Technology, Computer Technology, Computerized Accountancy and Office Administration specialties.

Saudi Arabia also has eight industrial institutes, which have been established by GOTEVT in or near the major cities of the Kingdom. These institutes admit intermediate school graduates who enroll for three-year programs successfully resulting in the awarding of Secondary Industrial Institute Diplomas. At these schools, trainees study a basic curriculum which includes Arabic, Religion, English, Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry. The specialties offered are Mechanics, Electronics, Auto Workshop and Electricity.

Saudi Arabian institutes offer a wide selection of training programs, from electronics to computers.

One of the newer schools is the Technical Electronics Institute in Riyadh, which was opened in 1993 by GOTEVT. Its superior facilities and accomplished faculty have put this school at the forefront of technical education in the Kingdom. Course work at the Institute includes Auto Control Technology, Computer Technology, Industrial Electronics Technology and Audio and Visual Electronics Technology. This year, in recognition of its outstanding success, the Institute is slated to become affiliated with the Riyadh College of Technology.

Preparing students for careers in commercial and financial fields is another area in which GOTEVT has been heavily involved. It has established 16 schools throughout the Kingdom to qualify students for jobs in these sectors. The Education and Training Department at GOTEVT is responsible for the supervision and evaluation of curricula at its schools, as well as establishing the qualifications for the instructors at each institute. Programs are normally three years in length, during which time students can choose to attend either morning or evening classes. They are taught the fundamental skills for commercial professions. A typical curriculum includes courses in typing (in both Arabic and English), Economics, Computers, Administrative skills, Accounting/Bookkeeping, Mathematics, English and Religion. Three institutes specializing in agricultural education have also been set up in Buraidah, Wadi Al-Dawassir and Al-Kharj - three areas where much of the Kingdom's agricultural industry is located. Here, students study Animal and Plant Production, Farm Management, Animal Industry and other such courses that will prepare them for technical jobs on the modern farms of Saudi Arabia. They also complete classes in Islamic sciences, Arabic, English, Chemistry, Physics and Mathematics.

The construction industry is another sector which is in need of large numbers of technical workers. Five institutes have been opened in the Kingdom to train young men for work in this thriving industry. Students at these schools in Riyadh, Tabuk, Abha, Taif and Unaizah study for specialties such as survey, construction supervision, road construction supervision, water supply management and drafting. One prerequisite for graduation is completion of a summer work-study program on a construction site. Upon fulfillment of all requirements, students are awarded a certificate in Technical Supervision.

Jobs in construction and automotive repair await graduates of vocational and technical training programs.

Vocational training has also taken on a more important role in the Kingdom. Graduates of these programs provide support for those in technical positions. To expand the availability of such training in all regions of the country, GOTEVT has opened 30 vocational training centers. These facilities provide courses in auto mechanics, air conditioning and refrigeration repair, general mechanics, radio and television repair, office machine maintenance, carpentry, plumbing, welding, printing and commercial studies. Length of study is shorter than at technical colleges, with most students enrolling in a variety of programs over a 6-18 month period.

In order to maintain an instructional staff with the highest qualifications and extensive practical backgrounds, GOTEVT created the Instructors Training Institute and Institutional Materials Development Center (ITI/IMDC). ITI/IMDC seeks to improve the level of instructors teaching at all vocational training centers, provide new Saudi instructors for all vocational programs, develop existing and new training materials, prepare training programs and undertake research and studies which will improve the curricula.

Technical and vocational training also extends to Saudi women. The Presidency of Girls Education (PGE) has established 31 schools for such training in the Kingdom. During 1995, enrollment at these schools was 3,514 students. Graduates of these programs go on to both private and public sector jobs in hospitals, schools, banks run by women and other businesses.

Hands-on training under the supervision of instructors allows students to become proficient in various trades.

As part of the nation's Saudization drive, regional chambers of commerce and industry participate in the training of the nation's work force. Through the offering of specialized training programs, regional chambers assist young Saudis in qualifying for jobs in the private sector that might have been beyond their reach without such instruction. Such programs last anywhere from one week to one year and include administrative, computer, language, and maintenance and repair courses. Chambers also offer career counseling and referral services.

The Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI), in particular, is very active in job training. As the largest of all the regional chambers, the JCCI holds more than 130 training courses and seminars each year at its training facility. Courses are targeted to cover all of the private sector's labor needs, including marketing, sales, maintenance, photography, customs clearance and navigation studies. Such courses are planned after considering the labor requirements of the private sector. JCCI has also established agreements with corporations where they will hire Saudis who have participated in the JCCI's training programs.

In addition to the Ministries of Education and Labor, other government agencies have pursued programs that will increase the number of Saudi youth entering technical and commercial fields. The Institute of Public Administration (IPA) has initiated programs to increase the skill level of civil servants. IPA programs are directed toward developing and training personnel for work in administrative and management positions. The Ministry of Communications has a training program that has offered instruction for more than 20 years to young people seeking work in broadcast production.

The cooperation of public and private sectors in improving the type of instruction that Saudi youth receive has helped propel the nation's industrial and business sectors forward on a steady course toward full Saudization and a new millennium of opportunity for all Saudis.

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