Serbia lacks both low- and high-skilled labour

The news that the State Seismological Institute has recently lost its only graduate geophysicist and that the institution is in charge of earthquake detection has had a lot of trouble finding adequate personnel caused great concern and widespread coverage in the media.  

Unfortunately, the Institute is not the only organization facing such problems. For years now, the Serbian economy has been suffering from a lack of workforce, both low-skilled and high-skilled. Almost all industrial branches are in trouble – construction, metal, textile, catering, chemical…

There is a profound lack of educated personnel such as civil engineers, electrical engineers, mechanical engineers, and technology specialists, as well as warehouse workers, waiters, cooks, butchers, hygienists, construction workers, drivers, and catering workers, to mention just a few.

The recent Serbian Chamber of Commerce (PKS) analysis shows that two-thirds of businesses need employees with a high-school education.  

Mirjana Kovačević, head of the Chamber’s Education, Dual Education and Educational Policy Centre, says that several reasons have contributed to the lack of quality workforce.​

“First of all, the main reason is demographic trends, i.e. our citizens leaving the country to work abroad, but also the population’s lack of interest in performing certain types of jobs,” says Kovačević.

She also states that highly qualified personnel have better prerequisites for adopting, applying and initiating new technological solutions, so in that context, they have greater importance for the advancement of not only individual companies but the economy as a whole.

However, there are still jobs which are key for a company’s operations or the functioning of society as a whole, and which require lower-skilled workers, such as certain manual jobs in the construction, textile and metal industries, service industries, as well as the transport of goods and people.

Considering that the shortage of personnel is a common problem in a large number of countries, the solution lies in a wider digitization and use of artificial intelligence, Kovačević believes.

“It will be easier to implement those solutions as the replacement of lower qualified personnel. At the same time, more qualified personnel will adapt better and faster to these advanced technological solutions”, explains Kovačević.

​She also points to a gap between professional education in Serbia and the needs of companies, because the educational system is not harmonized with labour needs or students are not provided with enough knowledge and sufficient skills that would help them to start working immediately after completing education.

Kovačević sees the solution in enabling more micro and small businesses to get involved in the resolution of this problem. She thinks that the Ministry of Education should allow the formation of smaller classes (up to 15 students) in some parts of Serbia which would teach students skills required by businesses in that particular part of the country.

Fewer university students

Fewer and fewer young people are enrolling in universities in Serbia today and it is particularly symptomatic that fewer students are now studying at industrial colleges.

Jelena Žarković, a professor at the Faculty of Economics in Belgrade, states that the key reform that the government should undertake should be aimed precisely at that education field.

“Back in 2018, we had a sudden drop in the number of students who want to become teachers and this continues to this day. We don’t have enough math, physics, chemistry and biology teachers which are extremely important for the country’s economy in the medium and long term. Who will educate our children tomorrow? This requires a focused reform aiming at more students enrolling in natural sciences colleges,” Professor Žarković points out.

“We have a lot of students from neighbouring countries coming to study in Belgrade and some of them stay to work in Serbia, but the bigger problem is those with completed high school and lower qualifications because they are the ones who mostly leave Serbia so the country is forced to import low-skilled workers,” Professor Žarković adds.

(Forbes Serbia, 05.01.2024)

This post is also available in: Italiano

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