Investing in petrochemicals research and development is one way for Gulf countries to tackle the growing jobs crisis in the region, the chief executive of the world's biggest oil company said today.
"The next 10 years will be in many ways a golden age for our region," said Khalid al Falih, chief executive of Saudi Aramco "but we also face many structural and demographic challenges."
Mr Khalid al Falih was speaking at the Gulf Petrochemical and Chemicals Association forum in Dubai against a backdrop of 28 per cent youth unemployment in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf facing a growing problem with hundreds of thousands of students due to join the job market in the next decade.
Mr al Falih said that regional petrochemical countries must increase their investment in research and development from current levels of 0.5 per cent to five per cent during the next decade as well as recruit more highly-skilled researchers to a region that he estimates now holds only 500 "true scientists," .
Gulf countries, he said, also need to shed dependence on oil and gas, which bring in money but create fewer jobs, and increase output of performance and speciality chemicals as well as venture into areas like pharmaceuticals, biotechnologies and nutrition.
"Capturing additional value is critical as our nations travel along the inevitable journey from dependence on export of natural resources to more diversified economies," Mr al Falih said.
That development would require an increase in entrepreneurship and venture capital, he said.
"It's imperative that we catch up from our relatively lie level of current investments," he said. "A more entrepreneurial mindset can help us better appreciate the limitations of our traditional approach."