Foreigners could fill job gaps, but not permanently

HR experts say shortage of labour will continue to be the main labour market challenge.

Illustrative stock photoIllustrative stock photo (Source: SME)

The Slovak Spectator spoke about current trends on the labour market and the challenges that employers are facing when seeking people to fill their vacant job positions with Sergio Duarte, general director of Adecco Slovakia, Martin Krekáč, chairman and owner of Jenewein Group and a senior partner of Amrop, Mario Fondati and Igor Šulík, both partners with Amrop, and Luboš Sirota, chairman of the board and general director of McROY Group.

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The Slovak Spectator (TSS): What are the main challenges for the Slovak labour market in general and for employers in particular in 2017?
Sergio Duarte (SD):
The labour market is changing and most of the companies are already preparing their new investments, meaning they already have new needs and a hiring plan to respond to these investments. Areas like IT, shared services and automotive are the main drivers and will continue to grow in 2017. There is a major investor coming in the automotive sector and this is a challenge for the country. It will attract other new investors, sub-suppliers and many other companies that will invest in infrastructure and provide outsourced services. So employers will hold on to their staff by improving their working environments. Mainly, we might see an increase of salaries in general. The main challenge will be with the retention of talented people in Slovakia – how the country and the government will lead in regard to future needs and what investments will be made in education and the integration of students into the business environment. Speaking of blue-collar workers, we see an increase in migration from among the regions and even from other countries. To respond to this movement, the country will need to adapt its infrastructure and create solutions to Slovakia’s dynamic business environment.

Martin Krekáč (MK): To put it simply – a shortage of labour. For many years now employers are pointing out that there is a problem with finding and hiring qualified candidates for many technical positions. With the new investments coming to Slovakia this problem will only escalate.

Luboš Sirota (LS): The main challenge for the market, as well as for employers, remains the same: how to cope with the increasing lack of a qualified labour force. The result is growing pressure on higher salaries, rising turnover of employees and higher costs for their training since companies are forced to hire people without adequate experience. Employees are thus able to pick from a higher number of job offers and companies need to figure out how to attract and keep them.

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TSS: Employers are pushing for less stringent rules for employing foreigners in Slovakia, arguing that migrants could fill the gaps in the availability of labour. Are workers from abroad the solution to the lack of qualified labour on the Slovak market? Which sectors could most benefit from less stringent measures for foreigners to work here?
It makes sense to have exceptions if the country does not respond to the needs of business. We need to respond to the investments made in Slovakia and to prepare the country for other new investments coming in. But the solution can’t be just looking for people abroad as general policy. You can use it for a special project, for activities that require a foreign language, for a special temporary or seasonal need or even in a transitional programme, but the country needs a medium and long-term strategy to respond to the needs of business. The field of shared services is more likely to use foreigners for their needs but that is not taking the jobs, for example, of those who don’t meet the requirements for a foreign language. There is also an opportunity for employees to invest in their skills and get better jobs and promote their careers. In general we have a sense of a lack of resources during this part of the year and this sense might increase in 2017-2018 with the expected reduction of unemployment, affecting all sectors.

Mario Fondati (MF): Workers from abroad could only solve the problem on a short-term basis. Especially the automotive and industrial sectors could benefit from such a measure. It is necessary to look into what kind of graduates the schools are offering to the labour market, and based on that to reshape the portfolio of programmes and curricula of the schools.

LS: It would definitely help employers if the labour market was at least partially open for workers outside the EU. There are vacant positions even now that cannot be filled only with Slovaks. For instance, about 30,000 IT specialists are missing from the labour market, and it is not possible to simply train people from other professions for those jobs. Even if university IT programmes doubled their number of graduates, it would take decades to fill this gap. Similarly, the market has started lacking people for qualified and less-qualified blue collar positions. It would thus help if the market opened at least for some specific qualifications, for instance for workers from Ukraine, Belarus, or Serbia. It is hard to get enough people from EU countries, where there is automatically an open market. They are rather attracted by countries further west where they can earn more and where the demand for qualified labour is also high.

TSS: Apart from migrants, what are other potential sources of labour? Where should employers look to employ people for positions they have problems filling?
Other countries have already started investing in training centres connected with companies and specialised by sector. The method has to be aligned with retention of talent in the country and the career path the company can give to its workers. So we need to look to the future in a different way and prepare an investment plan. Schools are also the major source of employees and job fairs are the main events for discovering great opportunities.

Igor Šulík (IŠ): Employers are forced to train and develop people so they can do the jobs needed. Employing people without the exact qualification, attracting people who are maybe retired, but open and willing to work, might provide some people for the open positions.

LS: At the moment, it can be a combination of several sources. One of them is the unemployed, but in some regions there is a lack of people with the appropriate qualifications and the willingness to work. That is why it is also important to seek people in regions with higher unemployment and motivate them to move for work. In addition, they also need to be trained for the jobs. Then there are those who are already employed, but there tends not to be enough in these regions as well, so therefore they need to also be sought elsewhere. And again, one needs to count on training them and dealing with their mobility. The result is that some companies must limit their development due to a lack of workers and reject some new orders because they would not be able to supply them in a timely way.

TSS: Recent reports say the attempt to introduce a six-hour work day in Sweden failed, as it proved too costly. What is your view of experiments with six-hour work days or four-day work weeks and do you see any of this as applicable in Slovakia?
I only see it applicable in areas where companies need flexibility as much as their employees. There are jobs more suitable for this type of schedule, but employees need to compromise in some cases on the weekend, so it is not possible to respond to all the requirements from employers and from employees all the time.

IŠ: Any experiment can be tested but at the moment this is not a solution. When you have to fight with finding people, it would be counterproductive to introduce measures that would somehow limit those that already are working. Hopefully in the long run we will have a situation that our welfare state will have the privilege of trying a measure like this. At the moment I find it of no use in our country.

LS: When they started testing this model in Sweden we warned that it would not be applicable in Slovakia in the wider context – mainly due to increased costs. It would be the same with a fixed four-day work week. That does not mean that such a model is to be ruled out, but it cannot be applied directly and flatly. For instance, one of our clients has absolutely flexible working hours. If employees prefer to work two days a week, they work two days a week; if they want to work six days, they will have days off later on, etc. This could be a way, but it always comes down to preserving flexibility on the basis of agreement between the company and its employees.

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