The Serbian Government’s measures have ensured economic stability and preserved existing jobs.
We talked to Mr Zoran Martinović, Director of the National Employment Service, about how the labour market in Serbia survived the coronavirus pandemic, which job profiles were in demand and which were in short supply, as well as about the new Employment Strategy and plans for 2021.
What are the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic for the Serbian labour market? Has the number of unemployed persons and, consequently, the number of unemployment benefit recipients increased?
Despite the pandemic and difficult conditions for doing business, all labour market indicators in the Republic of Serbia show that there have been no significant changes. According to the Labour Force Survey for Q3 2020, the unemployment rate at the end of 2020 stayed in single digits (9%), while the number of registered unemployed persons decreased in December 2020 compared to December 2019 by about 3%. From the declaration of the state of emergency in mid-March until the end of 2020, the National Employment Service (NES) received 51,277 applications for unemployment benefits, which was about 8% less than in the same period in 2019. At the end of 2020, we had the lowest number of unemployment benefit recipients in the last several years, i.e. fewer than 30,000 people.
Since the NES register includes persons whose employment is terminated on various grounds (expiration of fixed-term job contract, failure to accomplish work results prescribed by law, etc.), the NES cannot determine exactly which persons lost their job directly as a consequence of the crisis.
How has the pandemic affected employers?
It is a fact that certain sectors have suffered serious consequences due to the impossibility of doing business, most notably tourism, segments of the retail sector, hospitality industry, hotels, passenger transport etc. Accordingly, the highest number of layoffs were recorded in these economic sectors. On the other hand, some areas of economic activity have experienced dynamic growth and increased demand for the labour force, e.g. the pharmaceutical industry, food trade and the production of protective equipment and disinfectants.
“The number of registered unemployed persons in December 2020 was about 3% lower than in December 2019.”
During the state of emergency, the greatest proportion of new people who registered as unemployed with the NES after the termination of their employment came from wholesale and retail trade and the hospitality industry (restaurants and mobile catering facilities).
In 2020, compared to 2019, higher labour demand was recorded in the following sectors: health care and social welfare (increase by 35%), mining (+13%), and real estate (+6%), while the construction sector remained at the 2019 level. Moreover, businesses in the field of information and communication technologies have increased their activities and boosted their operations, primarily in terms of the provision of online services, delivery/distribution of products and online purchase and sale of goods and services.
How much have the government measures helped to stabilize the labour market?
I am sure that it was exactly the measures of the Government of the Republic of Serbia that ensured the economic stability and preserved the existing jobs because its reaction was timely and well-targeted. Thanks to the help provided to employers, the payment of wages was ensured in the first few months of the pandemic for over a million workers in the Republic of Serbia, which prevented mass layoffs. In January this year, it was noticeable that there was a slight increase in the number of people who registered with NES after the termination of their employment, compared to the same month last year, and we believe that the reason for this was the inability of employers to generate enough profit to pay wages.
In the second half of 2020, in cooperation with the National Employment Service, the Government of the Republic of Serbia implemented another anti-crisis measure called ‘My First Salary’ Youth Employment Promotion Programme. A large number of employers applied for this programme, as did a substantial number of unemployed youth. By the year-end, we managed to find a job for about 8,500 people, of which about 7,200 in the private sector. The comments of all beneficiaries, both employers and young people, have been extremely positive, which is the best evidence of the success of this programme.
Which occupations are in greatest demand, and which are in short supply, i.e. what kind of worker profiles should undergo re-training?
The worker profiles that have the greatest chances in the labour market (based on the number of reported needs for the employment of certain worker profiles and the number of unemployed persons of specific educational profiles) and that are most likely to get a job quickly include: university graduates in IT, electrical and software engineers, civil engineers with appropriate licenses, mathematics, physics, foreign language, informatics and computer science teachers, doctors with relevant specializations (anesthesiologist, cardiologist, ophthalmologist, gynecologist), pharmacists, biochemists, and financial experts – accountants.
As for secondary education profiles, the following worker profiles are the most in demand: CNC machine operators, welders, accountants, bookkeepers, caregivers, nurses, cooks, electrical and electronics technicians, computer, computer network and telecommunications technicians, security technicians, carpenters, bricklayers etc.
The National Employment Service has been coping with the problem of shortage of workers with the required know-how, skills and work experience by providing unemployed persons with further education and training programmes aimed at improving the quality of the workforce, i.e. raising their level of competitiveness and employability. These measures are intended for hard-to-employ individuals, whose occupations are not in demand in the labour market, or persons with obsolete knowledge and skills, incomplete education or lacking the required competences for specific jobs. Further education and training programmes are organized based on the findings of the labour market analysis and the identified job seeker needs, with a view to enhancing their knowledge and skills and providing them with the training and work experience for specific jobs.
During the pandemic, we had a markedly increased demand for medical staff (nurse – technician, nurse – educator, doctor of medicine specializing in pediatrics, caregiver, cleaning staff at hospitals, ambulance driver), as well as education and training professionals (teachers, professors, lecturers), construction workers (mostly construction machine operators), retail sales staff, product packaging workers, tailors, cleaning staff and caregivers.
How has the pandemic affected working conditions? Will this be taken into account when making plans for 2021 and providing counselling services to the unemployed?
In order to combat the spread of the contagious COVID-19 disease, the NES has enabled its clients to access its services online in terms of registering with the unemployment register, applying for unemployment benefits, requesting working ability assessment, unemployment status certificates, as well as applying for employment subsidies. All information and necessary forms are available on the official website of the National Employment Service.
“The NES implements further education and training programmes for job profiles that are not in high demand”
Since the National Employment Service strives to keep up with the current trends and tendencies in the labour market when it comes to the application of modern information technologies, in cooperation with the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ), we have been preparing a platform for online implementation of numerous labour market measures and programmes. In this way, via a web application, we can organize job fairs and various training sessions. In the forthcoming period, we will carry out all activities as per the recommended epidemiological measures.
What are the NES’ plans for 2021 and what can we expect from the new Employment Strategy that will be adopted?
In order to achieve continuity in the implementation of the employment policy, which should be developed in line with the needs of the national labour market, the Ministry of Labour, Employment, Veteran and Social Affairs has started drafting the new Employment Strategy of the Republic of Serbia for the period 2021–2026, in compliance with the Law on the Planning System of the Republic of Serbia, while fulfilling all the requirements in terms of the development and implementation of ex-post analyses of the 2011-2020 National Employment Strategy, as well as other analytical materials, and ensuring a consultative process throughout the development of the Strategy and the accompanying Action Plan.
Certainly, the new strategy should take into account the completely different circumstances in the labour market compared to the situation ten years ago. The adoption of these most important documents in the field of employment policy will certainly serve as a guide for the implementation of future NES activities.
The NES’ financial plan envisages significant funds for the implementation of active labour market policies, which will be directed towards both employers and the unemployed, and which will be more specifically defined by the new National Employment Action Plan.