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RIYADH: The Saudi capital finds itself in global competition with cities like New York and Tokyo for a skilled workforce, according to its mayor.

With a population exceeding 7 million, the city is experiencing an ongoing transformation as it becomes a hub for attracting talent and boosting entrepreneurship.

In an interview with Arab News at the Human Capability Initiative taking place from Feb. 28 -29, Riyadh Mayor Prince Faisal bin Abdulaziz bin Ayyaf said: “Competition for talent is no longer regional or local. It’s global. We’re competing with New York, with Tokyo, with Paris, with Chicago. So it’s a global competition.”

He added: “Riyadh is going through massive changes. It’s historic in its scale, in its scope, and its impact. We realize in Riyadh that the trigger behind all of this is having the right workforce, having the right talent, having the right engine behind what we are doing.”

The mayor delved into the city’s strategic framework, saying: “We have designated a lot of efforts in the city to attract and to retain and to develop the right workforce, which is aligned with the theme of what happens today.”

Speaking of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, he said it is not an endpoint but a milestone in the longer trajectory.

Prince Faisal revealed that designated programs look at attracting, retaining, and developing the workforce with specific projects and key performance indicators.

“For us, this is the key enabler that will unleash everything else that’s happening in the city,” he commented.

Reflecting on the global landscape, Prince Faisal highlighted the importance of job opportunities as a catalyst for attracting a skilled workforce.

“If you look at attracting the right workforce and attracting talent, there are multiple layers to that. The main trigger is job opportunities. Usually, talent moves for job opportunities and for this the current changes and the transformation, the current vision is taking care of it. We have an abundance of the right jobs for the right caliber,” he remarked.

Furthermore, the mayor outlined the fundamental factors that individuals consider when deciding on a location for relocation or settling down, saying: “You think about safety, housing, education, and health. And in all four aspects, there are concrete efforts to build on the good foundation that we have in the city today and to take it to the next level.”

He added: “The second layer is the quality of life where people would like to go for the necessities, but they will stay because of the quality of life.”

Discussing doubling the capital’s inhabitants number, Prince Faisal said: “It’s not a goal in itself. It’s an assumption that’s based on our sort of plans and details,” adding: “I think reaching 15 million (inhabitants) is not a goal in itself, but it’s an assumption based on historical trends.”

He explained that in the past 40 to 50 years, the number of inhabitants in Riyadh has been doubling almost every 10 years, which occurred without anticipation.

“What we’ve done this time is saying, OK, we’ve doubled for the past decades, let’s assume we’re going to double again in the next decade and work for that to provide infrastructure, provide and boost the economy, work on projects to accommodate for that,” he said.

In a panel titled “Shaping places, shaping our future to attract talent and foster innovation” at the forum, the mayor shared perspectives on the city’s trajectory and strategies for nurturing talent and innovation.

Prince Faisal also provided insights into the recruitment process, emphasizing the significance of competency as a baseline requirement, saying: “Every candidate and person and CV that you look at passes the filter of competency, or else you wouldn’t even see the CV.”

He added: “Once you see and you meet that person, they’re competent, there is no question about that, so you look for added layers.”

The top official explained further: “What I personally look for are two things. One, I look very clearly at culture. I think culture is very important in organizations. I think it is what makes or breaks successful organizations.”

He added: “Number two, that I really look for are soft skills. We agreed that every person that you meet is competent, but what distinguishes an executive from a leader are soft skills.”

The mayor underscored the importance of passion and purpose in one’s career trajectory, highlighting that it is “very important to love what you do,” because it’s “very critical to operate in a space where you enjoy.”

Discussing global tendencies affecting the workforce, Prince Faisal highlighted that “there are multiple trends that are impacting the workforce in general, one of them is AI, but others, such as transportation, such as globalization, those and many more. Those are all trends that are changing the narratives and trends of workforces. What’s happening is that talent has a much wider pool to choose from.”

Prince Faisal highlighted Riyadh’s unique blend of tradition and modernity, offering a compelling proposition for prospective talents.

He said: “We are a global city, but with roots, with cultural heritage, with traditions. And I think that combination and that juxtaposition together is what creates a competitive advantage for Riyadh.”

The Human Capability Initiative seeks to enhance and elevate capabilities universally while delving into opportunities across diverse domains such as skill development and the future of work, as well as education, talent, and technology.

The event will also bring together policymakers, thought leaders, investors, and entrepreneurs to catalyze international collaboration and maximize resilience while exploring opportunities and promoting innovative policy design and solutions.

The forum is hosting 7,000 participants from more than 70 countries, according to the mayor.

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