Friday, July 15, 2022

As is 1990s, Russian Economy Becoming More Primitive as Demand for Professionals Falling, Experts Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 23 – The Russian economy now and in the coming years resembles the first post-Soviet decade “when the technological and human potential created in the USSR rapidly fell into disrepair” as the demand for professionals falls while demand for unskilled labor increases, Moscow experts say.

But the current situation is worse than the one in the 1990s because Russia is now cut off from the West. Indeed, the experts point out, there is no known case where a country so cut off and in decline can make a comeback quickly (россия-экономика-становится-примитивнее-спрос-на-профессионалов-падает).

What is especially striking about the current situation, they say, is that the current degradation of the economy comes after almost 20 years of progress in which the role of professionals increased relative to that of unskilled laborers and in which Russia rose on the measure of human potential the UN maintains.

Among those drawing attention to this disturbing new trend and the fact that it is likely to be self-reinforcing over time are Vladimir Gimpelson, director of the HSE Center for Labor Research, and Pavel Kudochkin, the former labor minister and vice president of the University Solidarity Union.

Russian companies are spending less on training and are hiring fewer professionals, the two say. One indication of that is the fact that the number of professional job offers has fallen across the economy while the number of those competing for them has jumped often by multiples.

Over time, Gimpelson and Kudochkin say, “the situation threatens specialists not only with the loss of work but with professional degradation.” Those who do not use their skills for long period but instead work at jobs beneath the level of their qualifications almost invariably lose their skills. At the very least, they don’t keep up with new developments.

Many professionals are finding it difficult if not impossible to get work in their areas of specialization, and this despite the emigration of significant fractions of such workers. They are choosing to work in low skill jobs which are being vacated by immigrant workers, jobs that are far less secure than the ones they left.

Another step professionals are taking, the two experts say, is to purchase land near cities and raise food. That helped displaced workers in the 1990s and is saving some now. But in the 1990s, such people gradually returned to their normal work with the influx of Western investment and the growth of the economy.

Now such investment is unlikely – in fact, Russia is seeing massive disinvestment in its economy – and so many highly skilled people are likely to be working in gardens just to stay alive, one of the most visible and disturbing signs of what Putin’s war in Ukraine and Western sanctions have led to.

But this development may please some at the top of the Russian political and economic pyramid. After all, it is far easier to manage and control people who are working in unskilled jobs and living in precarious situations than it is to rule those who are highly skilled and feel confident about their positions.  

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