Aleksandar Hangimana, Managing Shareholder, ManpowerGroup South-East Europe Cluster
ManpowerGroup is a world leader in innovative workforce solutions. Every day, it connects more than 600,000 people to meaningful work across a wide range of skills and industries helping to power the success of clients around the world. Aleksandar Hangimana, Managing Shareholder at ManpowerGroup South-East Europe Cluster, elaborates on the current situation of the labour market and employeer behaviour in Bulgaria.
What changes did the pandemic drive on the Bulgarian labor market?
We see the biggest and most significant change in the way we perceive the world today from both professional and personal point of view. There was a 180-degree turn in our vision how things should work out as the pandemic literally kicked us out of our comfort zone and incited us to be more than creative to tackle the situation – yet another proof that any crisis is an excellent chance for improvement.
While we were locked up in our homes, we learnt how to be more effective and do more with less as reality blurred the lines between personal and professional life. In addition, the accelerated pace of digitalization taught us that if we want to succeed in our jobs after the pandemic, we have to acquire new skills, to be even more adaptive and flexible, to be tech-savvy, to increase our emotional intelligence and to never stop learning because time won't wait. Meanwhile there was a step-up in the optimization of business processes as a direct result of the increased work volumes and the lack of talent, and recruiting and motivation activities moved online.
Understandably, many Bulgarian employers had to cut down company costs during the pandemic in the form of lower monthly salaries, fewer perks or forced unpaid leaves. However, this approach was not the most popular one. On the contrary. Our research on the COVID-19 induced business trends showed that the majority of the Bulgarian companies did their best to retain their employees so they would be able to keep moving forward once the crisis was over.
ManpowerGroup Bulgaria, Survey of COVID-19 Induced Business Trends, February 2021
What does the labor market look like today, what kind of employees do companies need and how do they look for them?
In the course of the digital acceleration we are living through employers have focused not only on needed hard skills as these were their key target before the pandemic but on a mix of technical knowledge and purely human qualities such as self-discipline, stress resilience, teamwork, initiativeness and fast problem-solving. When combined with talent shortage, the task to attract and retain talents becomes extremely difficult not only in Bulgaria but across the whole world.
ManpowerGroup Bulgaria, HR Screening 2021 Research, March 2021
We work with companies from all industry sectors in the country and with no exception they ask us the same question again and again: Where and how to find the right employees? We are not talking specific hard-to-fill positions in specific sectors but large-scale lack of suitable candidates ranging from skilled workers, information security specialists and medical staff to HR experts and managers who do not simply manage but lead. The market got fragmented to an extent that each and every job opening requires in-depth research and analysis in order to find the right candidate who would fit like a glove to the company's needs and ethos. All other activities such as employer branding campaigns are supportive and if there is not a clear-cut preliminary screenshot of the perfect candidate, it usually comes down to significant time and financial losses.
What challenges did HR specialists face due to the distance work model and how did they overcome them?
Teleworking has become a standard practice for many companies. Together with talent shortage and the challenge of long-term staff retention it has led to the need for holistic and broad efforts to take care of the teams, their needs, and the company culture as a whole. For this reason, we are also observing an increased demand for HR experts who should guarantee the effectiveness of the work environment and provide the human capital as a prerequisite for business growth.
Remote team management and motivation gets even more complicated by the fact that HR departments often have their hands full with time-consuming, bureaucratic activities such as staff administration, calculation of salaries and benefits and similar. As a result, they rarely have spare time to focus on new strategies for effective remote team management, trainings and motivational programs. The wide range of operational activities often requires support from external companies. For example, the calculation of salaries and benefits can be handed over to accounting firms, candidate recruitment – to recruiting agencies, trainings – to external coaches. The tricky part is the potential communication burden that all these external service providers might create for the HR teams.
ManpowerGroup Bulgaria, Survey of COVID-19 Induced Business Trends, February 2021
On the other hand, the home office model – be it obligatory or optional, is more than welcomed by employees and lately also ranks as one of the reasons why they would recommend their company as an employer of choice. So, despite the challenges we are yet to meet I can only congratulate the Bulgarian HR experts on the adequate measures they took in the most difficult months
What new practices were introduced and what is their effect so far?
Today, new job openings follow very careful consideration and detailed planning of all business operations and related costs. Companies are increasingly robotizing and automating work processes. Furthermore, they use outsourcing services to reliable partners, so as a result they create new positions for people with much wider skill sets. Bulgaria's position as a steadily developing European country has further accelerated some trends that we had observed in other countries such as increasing salary levels and reduced unemployment. However, the market situation remains very dynamic and often unpredictable, so increasingly more organizations are looking for up-to-date business-specific information to build effective talent management strategies.
We witnessed how companies in the country transformed in no time and implemented a number of new human capital management practices. For example, regarding the positions which did not allow for remote work, they started offering non-fixed work hours and more flexible shifts as per employees' personal priorities. In addition, the feelings of isolation, stress and anxiety have already become part of the COVID-19 legacy. This also had a serious effect on our understanding of personal health, family and community, so the number of companies that prioritize employees' emotional wellbeing in the form of various organizational measures such as psychological counseling and wellness programs keeps growing.
ManpowerGroup Bulgaria, Salaries and Additional Benefits – Trends H2/2021, July 2021
Furthermore, candidate and employee experience, motivation and retention methods are currently high on the agenda. Our survey results show that activities such as onboarding of new employees, team buildings, development programs for managers and employer branding initiatives are growing in importance for the HR departments and their annual strategies. Another interesting new trend which sprang from our online living is the increasing demand for gamified staff trainings. We see this especially for the younger generations in the workforce as they find them more engaging and more motivating. Plus they are at a click distance. In addition, gamified formats eliminate the feeling of "yet another task dropped from above," as they bring the trainee real satisfaction and, last but not least, they are adequate to the times we live in.
What about new trends specific only to our region?
One of the latest trends with a positive effect on the labor markets in the region is the growing number of nearshoring projects. Bulgaria in particular has successfully positioned itself as a destination for production relocation in the process of shortening the supply chains, as well as a key location for transfer of production capacities which, of course, leads to a growing number of nearshoring projects here while there is still shortage of skilled workers. These trends also explain the plans of Bulgarian employers from the manufacturing and related sectors to increase en masse the salary levels in the second half of the year.
We have also seen the rise of the so called "invisible employer" – medium – and highly-skilled specialists work remotely from Bulgaria for foreign companies with no offices in the country. This, in turn, has doubled the competition between employers for staff and the need to showcase their employer value proposition in attractive campaigns and initiatives.
What changes are we to expect in the short term?
In view of the talent shortage in many industry sectors employers will increase the compensation packages as a way to attract and retain staff, as well as invest more in modern trainings which will help them build the soft and hard skills they need. Despite the country's strategic geographical location, its EU-membership and developing infrastructure which create suitable conditions for the growth of several sectors, along with the easy access to neighboring countries which, in turn, allow employers to attract workforce for in-demand positions, the quality of education keeps being one of the companies' biggest pain points. Therefore, I expect an explosion of in-house upskilling and reskilling trainings, as well as increased resort to psychometric profiling of job candidates and team dynamics as part of the entire business process optimization.
On the other hand, if Bulgaria wants to attract new investors and to motivate the current ones to keep expanding their opetaions and opening new jobs, it needs less burdensome procedures for staff import and intense long-term efforts to bring the young diaspora back as only when you bring all sticks in a bundle they can't be broken.