GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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“Saudi Manufacturing: Can ‘Monozukuri’ Take Root in the Kingdom?”
Paper Proposal Text :
This paper is an attempt of exploring if the culture of “monozukuri”, work culture in Japanese manufacturing industry, can be transferred to the Saudi society and take root there in its own form. This policy-oriented research will be conducted through interviews with people working in Saudi-Japanese manufacturing joint ventures and manufacturing-oriented vocational and technical training centres assisted by Japanese institutions in Saudi Arabia, which will be further examined in comparative historical analysis of the two countries’ political economy and development path.
Development of labour-intensive manufacturing industries is one of the most impending tasks for the Saudi economic policymaking authority today as youth unemployment issue forms an immense challenge to the future of social stability in Saudi Arabia. Based on the country’s achievements in developing petrochemicals industry into a competitive business in the past decades, the Saudi authority is now working on extending the production chain downstream, to value-added plastics and manufacturing sectors that use petrochemicals and plastics as raw materials such as home appliances and automobiles.
This ambitious industrial shift doubtless requires a new generation of competitive Saudi industrialists who can demonstrate their high capability in engineering and lead innovation towards the future. Nevertheless, there is currently a sheer paucity of national engineers and manufacturing people in the country. According to the data disclosed by the Central Department of Statistics and Information in Saudi Arabia, among 3.19 million workers in the Saudi manufacturing-oriented sectors in 2012, only 696,000, or 22% of them, were Saudi nationals, while the proportion of Saudi nationals in the total workers in the service sectors reached 53% (3.9 million out of 7.4 million). Likewise, there were only 149,000 Saudi engineers in the private sector, compared with approximately three million expat engineers there, while 97.8% of clerical positions in the private sector were occupied by Saudi nationals.
Those numbers suggests that something must be done in order to navigate much more Saudi students into engineering and manufacturing fields and strike a good balance in their preference of job between service and manufacturing sectors. Solution can be sought in education as well as at company level. Education at all levels, including primary, secondary, tertiary, and vocational and technical trainings, should embrace provision of engineering-oriented knowledge and skills more that would help Saudi youth be prepared to partake in manufacturing jobs. However, they alone are not enough: “K” (knowledge) and “S” (skills) must be followed by “A” – that is, “attitude”. Ultimately, the Saudi society must be transformed into the one accompanying the culture in which engineering and manufacturing works and workers are highly appreciated and esteemed.
Certainly, for the Saudi society which has a long tradition of trade and service businesses rather than agriculture and manufacturing, cultural change for embracing something alien to it would not be an easy task. In order to match the speed of economic diversification required by the labour market, the Saudi authority, thus, may need to look at other countries’ experiences and then attempt to transfer their essence to its own soil. In that sense, Japan can be a good reference country because the country has shown its global competitiveness in numerous manufacturing sectors which are filled with a myriad of small and medium-sized enterprises grown from the scratch, in addition to big-name firms such as Toyota or Toshiba.
It is well-known that Japanese manufacturing development has been supported by the culture of “monozukuri” – culture of “making things” as the word literally means. From the days of traditional “shokunin” (craftsmen) to contemporary engineers, monozukuri has been highly appreciated and esteemed in the Japanese society, enabling the provision of talented workers to manufacturing industries. Monozukuri encompasses a number of qualities and mentalities cultivated for producing sophisticated products such as respect, organisation, cooperation, “kaizen” (improvement), and “dandori” (arrangement) – parts of which were already introduced to the Saudi society through the TV programme entitled “Khawatir” (خواطر) aired in 2009.
In the past, Japanese engineers have transferred the culture of monozukuri to engineers in neighbouring countries such as Taiwan, South Korea, China, and Southeast Asian countries through firms’ overseas productions and interstate cooperation schemes. Recently, they have begun repeating those experiences in Saudi Arabia, too. For instance, Saudi Arabia now has three manufacturing-oriented vocational and technical training centres assisted by Japanese institutions, each for automotive, plastic fabrication, and home appliances sector. In addition, more Japanese businesses have entered production in Saudi Arabia or currently thinking of having one: the most recent achievement is the truck production by Isuzu in Dammam which began in December 2012. This research will tease out how the cultural transfer is carried out on the ground i.e. how Japanese engineers convey their ideas to Saudi workers and students, and how Saudi workers and students absorb and practice them. It then seeks if and how the Saudi society can develop its own “al-thaqafat al-sani‘iya” in next ten years.
For the research, the applicant has already conducted a preparatory fieldwork in Saudi Arabia last year, based on which he published a short Arabic-language opinion article in Al-Iqtisadiya newspaper entitled “International Technology Transfer to the Kingdom and Its New Horizon” (نقل التكنولوجيات الدولية إلى المملكة وآفاقها الجديدة”; URL: ) last summer. He will conduct another round of fieldwork in Saudi Arabia in coming March or April, which will be followed by fieldwork in Japan before we meet at the Gulf Research Meeting in August.