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Volume 14, Number 3March 1963

In This Issue

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Scholars On The Job

For many Saudi Arab college students, the good old summertime means working for Aramco.

Near the end of August a year ago, a young college student who had completed four years of electrical engineering studies at Gauss University in Berlin sat down and took a hard and mature look at what he had accomplished on a summer job in his chosen field.

He had been working for the Mechanical Services and Utilities Department of the Arabian American Oil Company in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia since the end of his spring term. Almost three months had passed since Aramco had flown him from school in Germany to its company headquarters at Dhahran, Saudi Arabia on the Persian Gulf.

"My summer employment," he wrote, "helped in giving me an idea about the American equipment used in the Aramco telephone and wireless systems. I thereby gained valuable empirical experience.

"I also profited greatly," he continued, "from observing the operations, the manner in which work and maintenance duties were allocated, the relationship between the supervisor and the employees during work, the mutual understanding between them with regard to orderly operations, and the way in which they face and solve problems together with ease as a result of the understanding prevailing amongst the employees."

The student, 'Abd al-'Aziz 'Abd al-Malik Sabri, was one of 38 Saudi Arab college students who had been working in Aramco's eight-year-old summer employment program.

From the time it began its search for oil in the eastern deserts of Saudi Arabia in 1933, Aramco has undertaken an interesting, and sometimes notable, succession of innovations. These have ranged from ingenious make-do tools, used in quelling a destructive oil well fire, to complex technical assistance programs. The company's summer employment of Saudi Arab students has been one of the most interesting and difficult of Aramco's unusual ventures.

Willing to learn from experience, the company has asked for and received the uninhibited criticism of the students themselves who have thus helped shape the program.

An American reader recalling his or her own summer jobs while in college might be slightly surprised at some features of Aramco's summer employment program. Free air transportation from school to the job. An assignment in one's field of study? Being asked to criticize one's employer?

Before taking a close look at Aramco's novel program, it would be well to examine the American phrase "summer job." It's a nostalgic phrase for many, one that gives rise to a wide range of private images, which, taken together, can provide an insight into changing American attitudes.

For instance, in the 1920's many college students looked upon summer jobs as paid vacations. They worked on cruise ships or at seashore resorts. The great depression changed all that. In the 1930's, summer work became mandatory for many—and any job would do. But by the end of that grim decade students and faculties alike began to look upon summer jobs as training grounds for careers.

The trend toward "valuable empirical experience," as 'Abd al-'Aziz Sabri aptly calls it in his report already quoted, has grown during the past two decades in the United States.

The Saudi Arab college students view summer work with Aramco strictly, and solely, as a way to get actual job experience in one's specialty. They have no concept of the "good-time" summer job.

As a result, the Aramco program, begun in 1955, required year-by-year custom building, so to speak. Each job must square with the idealization of summer work held by the selected students. There are many practical problems that grow out of such an approach. Every job must be previewed and carefully screened. New jobs are not created for the summer program. Long before the students arrive at the Aramco headquarters in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia each June, an elaborate system has been set in motion that critically analyzes the available jobs and the academic interests of the students eligible for the program. This is the heart of the program: matching job and student. It is a difficult undertaking that Aramco can now approach with considerable experience. Underlying the long-range success of the program is the Aramco policy that every job must be bona fide.

By the end of last summer, 321 college students had worked for the company during their summer vacations. Ten had worked in New York City, one in London, and the rest in the three major oil centers of Saudi Arabia: Dhahran, Ras Tanura and Abqaiq. The first year there were 21 Saudi Arab students in the program; 49 were "enrolled" in the 1962 summer program.

During the first three years of the program the students came from the University of Cairo, Ain Shams University (also in Cairo) and the University of Alexandria. In 1958, Saudi students were also selected from the American University of Beirut and the American University of Cairo. The following year the first Saudi Arabs attending colleges in the U. S. and Canada were added to the program.

More recently, summer college employees have come from a growing list of schools including the Universities of London, Manchester, Vienna, Kiel, Edinburgh, Pennsylvania, California, San Francisco, Texas and Kansas, as well as Oxford University, Kansas State University, Aleppo College, Damascus University and the King Sa'ud University in Riyadh, the national capital of Saudi Arabia.

The major fields of study represented by the students have become increasingly varied. As might be expected (and as a reflection of Saudi Arabia's needs), medicine and engineering head the list. Civil, electrical, petroleum, mechanical and chemical engineering students have worked in the Aramco program. Other academic fields represented by the Saudi students have been: economics, public administration, city and regional planning, law, philosophy, political science, agriculture, geology, business administration, geography, sociology and English literature.

The students have worked in practically every department of the company. They have held assignments in the medical, engineering, refining, producing, exploration, accounting, public relations, industrial relations and government relations groups.

A glance at this partial list of departments reveals that several hundred college students within one generation will have entered the business and professional life of their country with some concrete knowledge of Saudi Arabia's number one industry—petroleum. Besides getting some first-hand knowledge about their own specialties, the more perceptive students will have learned that the oil industry is enormously complex and requires an extraordinary range of services, operations and skills.

However, this broader view is more likely to come to a later generation of students. Right now the young men who leave the Kingdom to study—usually on scholarships provided by the Ministry of Education—tend to focus their interest strictly on the job in hand and they want that job to be limited to their college major.

At the close of the 1961 summer work period, Ilyas Mohammad Mansur-Bima, a political science major at Aleppo College in Syria, reflected this point of view when he told the company that he felt the work he had done had not exactly fitted his major. He wrote in the report each student is asked to prepare that the company could improve the program by employing "every student in accordance with his specialization."

Thorough planning has minimized this type of complaint. The plan now used is based upon a series of steps. Early in the year those in charge of the program survey the company departments. Will the departments have a place for Saudi Arab students this summer? How many? For what jobs?

The requisitions are examined by employment supervisors to determine job suitability. The same team will later interview the student applicants. Each job goes under the microscope. What specific knowledge or experience does it require? What level of English comprehension will be needed? Will the supervisor be available for guidance and advice? Is the work schedule irregular? Does it involve outside work? Or field trips? Will the student have to be able to drive a car?

In March a letter in Arabic goes to each Saudi Arab college student on a list provided by the Ministry of Education. Students who have completed three years of college work are eligible to apply for interviews. An interviewing team tours the campuses of the Middle East and Europe. Other interviewers see the students in the U.S.

Following the interviews, Aramco undertakes the job of matching students and jobs. The successful applicants are then notified.

One important step remains. The students are flown to Dhahran. There in a series of conferences they learn about Aramco, their work, their air-conditioned living quarters, their recreation facilities and their responsibilities. They are also given an advance on their summer salary. (The more careful among them return to college in the fall with as much as fifty per cent of their earnings.)

At summer's end each student is asked his opinion of the program and his own assignment. He is also asked to offer suggestions for improving the program.

How successful has the Aramco program been?

The men responsible for it have had no precedent to lean upon. They have had to proceed by trial and error. They are, therefore, not inclined to puff up the gains that have been made. However, they are pleased to exhibit student comments that show—aside from the many expressions of gratitude—that the program has been a real help to many of the college boys.

Two summers ago, 'Abd al-'Aziz Abbas Rafie, an economics major at the University of Cairo, wrote in his terminal report:

"My summer employment has helped me a lot in preparing for my future career, which is business administration.... It has also taught me that my future career is a very great responsibility on my shoulders. It makes me think more seriously about it."

This article appeared on pages 3-6 of the March 1963 print edition of Saudi Aramco World.


Check the Public Affairs Digital Image Archive for March 1963 images.