The smell of automotive grease fills a college hallway and clanging noises emerge from the workshop where Saudi Arabian men gather around an engine. These are not high school graduates, but older students in a pioneering program for extending skills throughout society.
The kingdom for the first time is giving short technical courses -- among them household electronics and computing -- to men and women who say it's a further step towards easing their country's reliance on foreign labour. The move complements efforts to build a more self-reliant economy after the collapse of global oil prices. It also helps dispel misconceptions that Saudis don't like to get their hands dirty in manual work, much of which is done by millions of expatriates.
The world's biggest oil exporter last year embarked on a wide-ranging social and economic reform plan to wean the economy off oil by broadening its industrial, investment and small business base to employ more Saudis. It calls for improved education and expanded vocational training. The new adult courses are not designed to qualify people for the job market, said Ahmad Fahad al-Fahaid, who heads the Technical and Vocational Training Corporation (TVTC), the government agency in charge of skills development. They should, however, help them develop just enough knowledge to avoid having to call in expatriate labourers who "offer some maintenance or skills that can be done by Saudis," Fahaid said during a visit to the automotive workshop