Editorial: the sunny side of worker shortage

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Illustration: Urmas Nemvalts

Let us, in simple terms, explain the heading. Work shortage spells sufferings for people without jobs, and their families – and for those with jobs, helping the unemployed is extra burden. Worker shortage, at least in our current situation, means Estonian economy is doing rather fine and various solutions exist for the problem.

On the darker side: for a long time, Estonia’s families have had fewer children than desired. Our Moms and Dads haven’t had enough sons and daughters to nourish and to cherish. In retrospect, this cannot be helped. The parent’s salary was a blessing, boosting confidence. Hopefully, economic growth will play its part encouraging people to have children, then able and ready to raise the little fellows into happy adults.

The demographic waves first crushed in on the field of education. Universities prepared long in advance, and are basically ready to cope. In general education, things have probably been discussed as well; even so, the parties being so many and diverse, reactions tend to be more painful. Talking about our children in the context of economy and labour market feels cold and hard – still, nothing doing: the dimension exists. With numbers of people shrinking, in this corner of the world, it does affect the economy. For quite a while already, we have known the deadline to arrive at about 2016.

For the western world, there is nothing new about entrepreneurs talking about the need of foreign workers, the volume raised or lowered as the economy does its tides. For Estonia, cut off from the normal world during Soviet occupation and over these past two decades rather busy selling cheap labour, the phenomena ahead of us is totally unique.  Even so, this must not automatically mean that, in our solutions, we would repeat the Germany of half century ago, or the reactions of Finnish entrepreneurs (with a pinch of salt) during the past decade.

But let’s consider our options. In highway transport automation, we’re quite prepared – why not be Europe’s first to legally allow the driverless vehicle? Shop assistants? Visit our own Sangar stores or go shopping, technologically, in Selver! See how, and why, these companies have changed their ways. Also: we do have the basic EU freedoms. Is the wage level for Romanian and Bulgarian hotel workers really way too high?

For twenty years inhabitants of Estonia have heard the message: develop the economy first, and then life will get better for all – a social contract, sort of. Every population has those more and less able, Estonia and Europe being no exception. Should we now say that our own people are too good for cheaper jobs – that’s breaking the pact.