Hosts: Christos Leivaditis & Sofia Myrotheou
In our effort to bring young people from the Balkans and Eastern Europe closer, we are launching new actions to promote dialogue and give voice to the youth of these countries. In this international discussion, the main subject has been Youth employment, conditions, and opportunities for young people in Eastern Europe and the Black Sea area.
In this context, 4 young people from 4 different countries, namely Bulgaria, Georgia, Turkey, and Ukraine, honored us with their interest and willingness to participate in a dialogue. They thoroughly analyzed the situation concerning several critical aspects of youth employment, work opportunities, and work conditions for the youth in their respective countries. Borislava Ivanova, Ana Norakidze, Kerim Hakim, and Myroslava Syrotenko are four young people with international experiences, who have all felt the positive and negative aspects that the work market of their homelands keeps for the youth. For this reason, they were right to share their views on these diverse issues, as well as give inside details, based on their personal experiences.
Is youth unemployment a problem in your country?
Youth unemployment is indeed a problem in Ukraine, while general unemployment is not as serious – its rate is about 10% right now. It didn’t change during the pandemic, over the years the rate of general unemployment in Ukraine has stayed at around 10%.
Personally, I don’t have that much experience working in Ukraine. I was born in a small city, then I went to Poland for my Bachelor’s Degree, so I studied in Poland. My friends in Ukraine though have problems while searching for a job, because after you graduate, the employers always ask for some experience. However, Ukrainian Universities don’t give internship opportunities and they also don’t help students to find a job. It is a paradox that can’t find a job without experience, but there’s almost no way to gain experience while you’re studying.
I would say it also depends on the city. For example, if you take my city, it is rather small, it has around 200.000 population and all my young friends there have found a job through connections. I would say it happens not because of nepotism, necessarily, but mostly because when people open positions in their businesses, they don’t post it on some job-searching website, but they first ask their friends and family, to see if they have somebody to recommend for the job. I would say this is the big problem because if you visit the job-searching websites, you only see jobs in some factory, or as a consultant at some shop. For example, if you take big cities in Ukraine, like Kyiv, Kharkiv or Lviv, I would say it is a bit easier for young people to find a job.
There are really nice businesses now, for example, some corporations from other countries, come to Ukraine and open their offices. Also, there are some nice restaurants and businesses with clothing brands, which are searching for young talents, but I would say that the only way to get into such businesses would be through their social media or through their website, so again the job-searching websites are not very useful.
I would like to add one last thing. All my friends who are working in big cities, work in English, so if you know the English language, it’s a really huge asset and you will likely find a job.
Unemployment is a very huge issue for Turkey. The problem is that the Turkish currency is not reliable and all major investors are running away. Even if you know English, you can’t find any job in international companies, cause they’re not here, they all ran away, a long time ago, because they don’t want to put their money in a country where the currency is so unstable and the political situation is so unstable as well, that they can’t make any foresight.
There is no major company in Turkey right now. Even if there are, they’re small offices, with one or two representatives in the country. For example, I worked in Red Bull for a long time and there were at least 1.000-2.000 employees operating in Turkey and they had an office of, I don’t know, 100 persons probably. However, right now, these are like dream numbers for any company. At this moment, Red Bull only has 50-30% of these employees in Turkey, because they are all moving their investments from the country.
So let’s say, that even if you find a job, it will be extremely underpaid as well. That’s one of the main issues of youth employment, because the only jobs that you can find are in major cities, like Istanbul, or Ankara. There, the situation is, more or less, ok, but you most likely will not move to a bigger city just for the paychecks, because the cost of living is also really high in these cities. So, yes, I would say that unemployment is a really big issue right now.
In Georgia at the moment, things are not very easy, because we also have a pandemic. I would like to mention the situation, for the domain of experience that the companies usually ask for from their candidates. For example, they might say in their applications that they ask only for a Bachelor’s Degree, but they also ask for experience of 2 or 3 years and plus, in fields like Marketing, for example. So it’s 2 or 3 years of experience at this early age, so if you’ve just graduated and obtained your Bachelor’s Degree. This is, in fact, a really hard and huge issue here IN Georgia right now, it’s impossible to get this amount of experience at this early age because you cannot work that much due to your studies.
I’ve been trying, but my experience has been in some companies, to work like for 2 or 3 months, because I could not manage my time with my studies, so it was impossible and I was so frustrated. Now I got a job, this week actually and it was not easy because of these things I mentioned with the experience. I was afraid I was not enough for some companies and I was studying and earning as many skills as possible and at last one company really gave me a chance. I was so motivated and I was pushing myself a lot, so this actually worked, someone gave me a job chance and saw the motivation in me, even if I didn’t have these 2 or years of experience.
But in the end, I don’t know, I was really lucky that I got this job right now, without having these 2-3 years of experience. In my view, this is the major problem right now.
How easy is, you think, is for young people to find a job related to their field or their specialty?
Actually, it is a big problem in Bulgaria, because we have too many students, that graduate in a certain specialty and of course after they graduate there are not enough free job positions for them, this is on the one hand. On the other hand, it is the fact that, for example, we experience a lack of engineers, young teachers, and medical staff. And this is mainly because of the fact that those young people prefer to work abroad, so this is how we can see the phenomenon of “brain drain” which is pretty typical for the Balkans, not only for Bulgaria.
So yes, it’s actually pretty difficult to find something that is related to your specialty. Young people work mostly at the call centers because every young person knows at least English, so the easiest way not to be jobless is to start at a place like that, a call center. And we have to work in Bulgaria so yes, maybe no one is working what’s he or she has studied!
A job related to their specialty? I think that it’s possible again but, it’s again the issue with experience in every field. They ask for really high standards, which especially young people do not have. As for me, I was traveling a lot I was studying in different countries and I could not settle in one company, for example. I could not have such a long prolonged form of experience in one place so when I came back to my country I was like having this short-term job experience and for me, it was hard to find a place to work. So it is not hard to find a job in your field it is just hard to convince someone to take you as, like in my example, cause I’m a highly motivated person who is really willing to start the job.
How easy is it for young people to start their own business in your country?
There is this index called, ease of doing business. I think it’s called like this I’m not sure. All of the Balkans are almost at the same level so that’s the problem. In Turkey it is not the starting of the business, it’s keeping the business running. So starting a business is really easy. There is almost no particular red taping, the so-called red taping, there are no particular obstacles, there are not many problems with the bank loans. You can have really nice bank loans really easily and really fast.
Let’s say we want to start a business right now right here. In 3 days we can have our company running. We can rent a place with the name. In the name of our company, everybody’s legal business will run really fast, really smooth. But, of course, this doesn’t really mean anything. The problem is that the business is not running well. So yes, starting a business is easy but keeping the business alive is not so easy.
I would say this is so much easier in Ukraine, compared to the EU or the US because the competition is not high in Ukraine, especially in some new innovative businesses and you can literally just copy the business model of some company in the EU and you can bring it and copy it in Ukraine and it will be just booming. I think the reason is that we are still late for a couple of years, after the EU or the US, so the businesses that were open like 5 years ago they’re just being opened in Ukraine.
And in general, I would say that the government doesn’t really support young businesses, but our current president started working on some innovative online business projects. So for example, you can easily register your business online you can also easily pay your taxes online literally like in one minute but I wouldn’t say that it’s properly working yet, but probably in a couple of years, it will be working.
And I also know, some private companies and corporations, actually support young businesses and they have some competitions for entrepreneurs. For example, you have some business idea and you don’t want to go to the bank and take a loan, but you want to find some investors, you can participate in the program like this and they will finance you so I see a big potential in Ukraine.
Do you believe that the government supports youth innovations and youth initiatives in your country?
Unfortunately, not so intensively. We have one program, which is not governmental actually, it’s called “Teach for Bulgaria” and the aim of the program is to attract young teachers with a little bit higher salaries, to go to school for 2 years in order to experience what it’s like to be a teacher and that’s the way they are trying to keep the young people at schools. But usually, after those two years, people just leave for another job.
We also have more private initiatives, instead of governmental ones. So yes, what I can actually note about Bulgaria through the last years, are the start-ups and actually, a lot of young people are establishing their own companies like that, but definitely not with the government’s financial help.
I think there are really nice subsidies for innovations and new companies. I made a full list right now and I’m going to read it from there. If you will open a new company and you take this education from the government, where they teach you how to run your business how to do marketing, and other aspects of business, you may have up to 2 million liras, zero-interest bank loan from the government. So zero interest and 2 million Turkish liras, which is around 400.000 Euros. And for a year you do not pay any insurance for your workers, the government pays it for you.
Also, for 3 years you do not pay any tax, you are full tax immune; whatever you make is totally yours. Additionally, although this is pretty rare, if you have a really innovative idea and you can prove that this idea is originally yours and this is unique in Turkey, you can also have, up to 400.000 Turkish lira in subsidies, with no payback, which means it is totally yours. I cannot actually translate its name, but this is the entrepreneur support system.
We also have another part of this system, which is about the employment part. For every three employees you hire, the government gives you one free employee, they are paying for their paychecks for 6 months and cover their insurance for 6 months as well, and this can go on as long as you hire people, the government will give you one free employee for every three employees you hire. But of course, there’s a catch that this employee should be in the category of minimum wage workers.
So you cannot hire a doctor, you cannot hire a software designer with this system. You can only hire minimum wage workers for your factory. And also, there is a huge support for women entrepreneurs, there is like an extra 100,000 Turkish lira permission, for the mass produced goods, for the female entrepreneurship in Turkey. So this is really nice, but what I just told you about it with Turkey, the bureaucracy and everything, this part of bureaucracy is really hard.
You have to take all the education. You have to know how to write your project application. You have to prove that this idea will make money, that it will bring people, and that it will bring foreign currency to Turkey. So, you have to prove that you are doing something good for the government and for the Turkish lira and if you can prove it, you’ll have a lot of benefits of course, so I do believe it’s a really sufficient way to support these domains.
Another equally important subject concerns workplace discrimination. What is your opinion, is there workplace discrimination for young people or for women in your country?
No, there is not so much in Georgia. I’ve been asking my friends through social media if anyone has experienced this kind of discrimination and they answered no. I’m happy about that, but I would say that in Georgia, there are still some professions that are more for males or for females. For example, we have fewer drivers and taxi drivers who are female and we have fewer kindergarten teachers who are male.
Like, there are in fact professions that are used to be for male or female, we have several examples of this gender situation but would like to mention a specific one, which I think is a good one. You can take as an example the President of Georgia, who is a woman, which is actually quite rare compared to most countries all over the world. She has held that position since 2018 and there has never been such kind of discrimination. She doesn’t have haters because she is a woman; there has never been any kind of discrimination because of her gender.
What I would also like to add is that, fortunately, the Government has approved quotas in the Parliament, which foresee that every fourth member of every political party has to be a woman, starting from the next Parliamentary elections. Right now, only 14% of the Parliament members are women, which is quite lower, so in the next years, we’ll have more, thanks to this decision.
I am aware that this is an important issue for many countries. I know that in the US, for example, they have a great problem of unequal salaries between women and men. In Ukraine, thank God, it’s not like this, but I would say that the problem is also about stereotypes, that some jobs are for men, as mentioned before. This applies more to smaller cities as well.
For example, if there would be an open position in direction of some factories and the candidates would be a man and a woman with the same skills, I think that the man would be chosen, just because of the stereotypes.
It is the same here in Bulgaria; both genders here are treated equally, more or less. For example, the Major of Sofia is a woman and she has been elected several times so far and also regarding the payments, we do not have such problems here. Yet, sometimes we can observe some other type of discrimination at work, but definitely not gender discrimination.
Throughout the discussion and the remarks of the four participants, important issues concerning youth employment and the conditions in these countries of Eastern Europe and the Black Sea Area have been analyzed. Balkans in-site deeply thanks them for their time and precious contribution and the important information they shared with us about their countries.
Balkans in-site is the only Balkans observatory in Greece. We promote youth dialogue, expression, and the active participation of youth in such actions. We aim to give voice to the young people of the Balkans and of East European countries, to express their opinions, ambitions, and experiences and cooperate in order to find solutions for our common problems.
Some information about the participants of the interview:
- Myroslava Syrotenko is from Ukraine. She is studying Business Administration at the University of Wroclaw, Poland, from where she is soon to graduate. She is currently working for HP Inc. Poland as a Finance intern.
- Kerim Hekim is from Turkey. He has studied Public Administration and is currently preparing for his Master’s Degree.
- Ana Giorgadze is from Georgia. She holds an M.A. in Journalism and Social Communication, from the University of Wroclaw, Poland. She is currently working at RedPoint Advertising Agency, where she is running Social Media Marketing.
- Borislava Ivanova is from Bulgaria. She is a Ph.D. candidate in Balkan Comparative literature, with her thesis titled “Aspects of Politics in the Novels of Ismail Kadare and Orhan Pamuk”. She is also a member of the Balkans in-site, having contributed as a columnist with several interesting articles.
The above action, project, or interview took place in the context of the Balkans in-site informal youth group of which Theodora Vounidi and Annia Korneeva were co-founders. This has been granted with common consent to the Balkan Youth Cooperation since it has been carried out by its founders and volunteers.