Graduating to an economic downturn

For the first time in a decade Graduates from the Russian tertiary education sector are coming into an uncertain economy. That’s leading to changes for employers and prospective employees.

The biggest difference is the outlook. After a decade of strong growth which saw Russia evolve into an energy fuelled emerging powerhouse with increasing presence in the global corporate and financial sectors, the sharp economic downturn of mid to late 2008 came as a shock.

Natalya Golovanova, head of Research Centre, says the downturn is changing the needs of employers, with the downturn in the advertising and marketing sectors particularly pronounced as companies focus on essentials.

“Sales managers are the most desired people in today’s labour market. They stole leadership from administrative personnel, like accountants, secretaries, assistants, who went the first in the Top 20 list of the most popular vacancies a year ago. Logically, professionals in the spheres hit the most by the crisis, like advertisement and marketing sectors, left the list completely. Today, accountants take the 2nd place, with engineers, who have always been more popular than humanities graduates, in the first three places. Interestingly, the demand for medical workers has gone up during the crisis.”

The most popular positions, August, 2009,

â„–Rating of employers’ requests at of all requests
1sales manager8,20%
4qualified employee4,30%
6non-qualified employee2,96%
7sales representative2,80%
9regional representative1,91%
12PC/call centre operator1,77%
15medical worker1,26%
16customer relations manager1,20%

Not surprisingly, the change in labour market is seeing changes in salaries, both those being offered and those being expected. Golovanova notes that starting salaries have declined, but, more interestingly, that in some fields they are on the verge of returning to pre downturn levels.

“In crisis times the maximum wages started falling the first, as in Russia these are mostly unreasonably too high. Then the minimum ones followed, with those few in the middle remaining almost the same. Today the average salary for a graduate in Moscow ranges from 15.000 to 25.000 Roubles, with technical specialists enjoying a higher start. Our company also has its own Salary index that tracks the dynamics of the salaries in major fields since October, 2008. And it shows that construction, banking sector and IT are about to return to their pre – crisis levels, with marketing and PR in much more trouble. ”

According to Head Hunter, salaries have dropped 10-20% year on year. For example, salaries for an IT graduate have fallen from $800 to $600, for a finance specialist from $700 to $600, and in marketing from $600 to $500. And these are the numbers for Moscow, regionally they are 20-50% lower.

For individual graduates that is translating into more job applications in a more competitive marketplace, facing smaller opening salaries. The experience of MGIMO graduate, Alina Marinchenko, is typical of many.

“Actually, I’ve already been to about 8 interviews and all them were quite similar. As a rule, employers were asking me about my work experience, how it could help me, as well as my expectations and plans for future personal growth. Interestingly, only once they told me the exact number for the salary I could account for, which was 25,000 Roubles, lunches paid. In the rest of cases they asked my salary expectations, sometimes saying “that’s ok, that’s reasonable”

In this market Natalya Golovanova says its best to take positions on offer, at the salaries which are available and to start getting workplace experience for the economic rebound.

“Don’t strain. Be realistic. A low start is more reasonable both financially and professionally. There is no point in sitting around and waiting for better offers with higher salaries, as this crisis is just temporary and working for the experience would be the best decision for today’s graduates. Moreover, employers are very enthusiastic to take graduates, as they have become of a different quality and knowledge of the English language, for example, is a sort of a usual thing, unlike those, say, over 30. The first thing employers would look at is a person’s desire to work, as well as his living position.”

That advice matches the approach of Alina Marinchenko. But she says even though flexibility is a key, she still wants the opportunity to develop her skills.

“I think that today it’s very important to be flexible, but personally I, as a graduate with particular skills like the knowledge of foreign languages, would like to apply and develop them and wouldn’t like to compromise in terms of my future job being interesting and perspective. So, lower salary at the start is ok, but not a boring job without prospects.”

Another option being pushed by some graduates is to add more to their education. Elena Kurochkina, from the Labour and Employment Department at Plekhanovskaya Academy says more people are looking at skills upgrades and advanced qualifications.

“This year we’ve certainly seen more applications for a Doctor of Philosophy Degree. If before there were on average one or two people, who wanted to proceed with science or teaching, than already now there are 3 or 4 for one place. The courses for requalification and qualification upgrades have also become more popular, with personnel management, accounting and audit taking the lead.”