As the world grudgingly grows to accept Russia's role in Syria, Russia's industry is struggling to keep pace the country's geopolitical success. Lacking sufficient qualified labor, some military factories have begun to operate on three shifts in order to support the ongoing aerial campaign in Syria. According to Russian daily Gazeta.ru, the transition by individual departments of the Tactical Missiles Corp. was probably caused by growing demand for the arms technology in use in Syria, as well as by chronic staff shortages. The paper notes that such shortage of skilled professionals also applies to the parent company of the holding, alluding to a much wider workforce problem.
While Russian officials and international commentators are noting increased concern at the state of the Russian economy and the worsening situation for its vast labor force, numerous jobs have gone unfilled, even in national security-related enterprises.Tactical Missiles advertised dozens of engineering jobs in the hope of quickly ramping up production to support Russian Air Force efforts, even promising raises to younger workers and paid hotel stays for out-of-town applicants.
Altogether, the corporation needs to fill 300 jobs -- a significant gap in its production capacity. A company spokesman tried to downplay the urgency, noting that "certain departments may have indeed switched to three shifts in order to fulfill government orders. As for the shortage of staff, that periodically happens in blue-collar specialties that have now, unfortunately, become rare, such as with millers and electric turners."
He added that the Russian government is sponsoring a program that trains people for work at defense enterprises and corporations, realizing that such enterprises need not only engineers, but also highly skilled blue-collar workers. "Unfortunately, young people today are reluctant to train for such professions, because they must train for a long time long to gain experience and start to earn good money."
The Russian government indeed has been vocal about its lack of highly qualified workers. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev noted in 2014 that "trained and skilled workers and laborers are now sorely lacking in virtually all (industrial) sectors...We need to change stereotypes about the low prestige of these professions."
That lack of prestige is due to the fact that in the Soviet Union, the word rabochiy -- worker, or laborer -- was a common description for tens of millions of men and women working blue-collar jobs in sprawling state factories and enterprises, performing menial labor under minimal safety standards for relatively low pay. These jobs were supposed to offer security -- guaranteed pensions and social services -- yet such guarantees evaporated during Russia's painful economic transition in the 1990s, which decimated numerous state enterprises unable to compete in the global economy. A vast workforce was left on its own, often lacking pay and basic benefits.
As the Russian economy began to improve in the 2000s, many young people saw a future not as welders and electricians, but as players in the then-growing domestic and international high-tech, services, energy, and financial sectors. It is worth noting that Western nations are suffering the same shortage of highly-skilled laborers now. The United States, for example, needs welders, and many industries are willing to pay high salaries for the right set of skills.
Moscow is trying to throw money at the problem. In 2014, Medvedev launched a government program called Development of Vocational Education, which received 405 billion rubles (about $6.2 billion) in 2015. Moreover, last year the Russian government approved a plan to train the military-industrial complex workforce for the 2016-2020 period, and it signed a decree which contains a plan aimed at popularizing labor and engineering professions.
It's not only about money -- it's also about games. The plan, which should help increase the popularity of blue-collar occupations, included activities such as the All-Russian professional skills competition Best in Profession, the WorldSkills Russia national championship, a national career-oriented festival, Profi, and an All-Russia forum of young workers. The plan hopes to entice no fewer than 600,000 potential applicants. According to the head of the Empire Personnel recruitment agency, Olga Glukhov, "blue-collar jobs are not currently held in high esteem, because they are associated with hardship and low pay. Those who wish to work are faced with the fact that companies need specialists with extensive experience. The result is a vicious circle, when college graduates with no experience can't find a job in their field."
Such government activity can't come at a better time for the nation that is facing continued economic decline this year.