Issue 4, 2012. August-September



International organizations are phasing out foreign hires, replacing them with locals - a sign that Georgia's local talent pool is improving. But for the trend to take hold, experts say Georgia needs better trained professionals.

Maia Edilashvili

Companies in Georgia are looking local for staff hires, a change that bucks earlier trends when foreigners were given preference for their skills and qualifications. In a country where unemployment figures range from 15 to 40 percent depending on the source, the issue of local labor is a crucial topic.

From large internationals like BP Georgia, to smaller businesses, local staffing is picking up speed, according to Lana Tsagareishvili, founder and managing partner at Mindstream, a professional recruiting and headhunting company.

Companies like BP Georgia, ProCredit Bank, and others, are tapping into universities and the labor pool to bring locals on board for a variety of reasons, including cost efficency and sustainability. Better training and better English language skills are also making local hires more attractive.

Over the past five years, the proportion of Georgian nationals working for BP Georgia has steadily increased, including local hires in management positions.

According to the BP in Georgia Sustainability Report 2011, while the number of national employees was less than 300 in 2007, it exceeded 350 last year. At the end of 2011, 95 percent of its staff was Georgian citizens.

Eka Abashidze, Administrative and Human Resources Manager at NRC International Services Representative Office in Georgia (formerly known as SEACOR Environmental Services International), also says that, currently, they employ 75 people - and foreign highers are eight times less than when the company started in 2004.

While there are no official statistics available for foreign nationals working in Georgia, some analysts from ILO claim that their number is 10 thousand, which they say "is pretty high" for a country fighting wide spread unemployment.

In July, Prime Minister Vano Merabishvili announced plans for a Ministry of Employment, with a former construction company tycoon, Paata Trapaidze, at the helm - a sign that the government is also tuned into the unemployment issue.

Trapaidze has been tasked to create a database of Georgia's jobless, and create a strategy to pair people with jobs. But making Georgians more competitive will require more than just a database: the labor pool needs to match the demands on the ground. For instance, Georgia is flush with quality personal for the banking and financial sectors, but lacks experienced professionals in IT, engineering, metallurgy, heavy industry, and construction - as well as sales and services, according to Tsagareishvili.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) reported that hundreds of migrant workers, mostly from China, Turkey, and India, come to Georgia for jobs in agriculture, construction, trade and services sectors. While the workers are taking advantage of Georgia's easy visa requirements, their numbers are also a sign that the local labor pool does not fit real demands.

Elza Jgerenaia, analyst of Georgian Trade Union Confederation, who has worked with ILO on the issue of foreign hires, said that the market suffers from both the lack of workforce and the excess of it.

"This is because certain professions do not meet the criteria set by the market," she noted.

For example, companies have to hire expatriate contractors when specialist skills are needed. At BP Georgia, foreign hires are still necessary for "technical" jobs, like engineering and pipeline operations.

In November, Mindstream, the recruitung company, is organizing a job fair in partnership with ten leading industry companies to connect companies and university graduates so that, after several months of training, selected candidates receive hands on experience.

Training is crucial to bringing more locals on staff, Tsagareishvili noted.

ProCredit Bank Georgia is a good example: the bank currently has 1,420 employees - and just five of them are foreign. To keep local hires up to speed on the latest skills, though, the bank spent $1 million on training last year, noted Teo Lezhava, a marketing specialist at ProCredit Bank Georgia.

NRC International Services's Abashidze also noted that "intensive training" is part of their employment package. "Education and professional experience is the key selection criteria for us," Abashidze said. "Given our company's specifications, finding qualified local staff is comparatively hard. Therefore, after we hire someone, we provide intensive training and teaching opportunities."