The FINANCIAL — A few weeks ago, I spent a few days in Perth, Western Australia, known for its major mining companies, spiralling real estate prices and restaurant bills which are double of what one might pay in Sydney, Australia’s land mark capital.
Western Australia is a very large territory which could swallow one third of Europe and is Australia’s economic engine with its mining and mineral exports. The state has been transformed, through the years, into a magnate for big mining companies and a labour force which earns twice of what one would earn anywhere in Europe. And the quality of life in Perth, once a relatively unknown city, exceeds all expectations.
There is one problem, however, that nags most mining companies, the Western Australian government officials and the Australian Federal government: a serious lack of skilled labour which can keep the engines of growth – skilled labour ranging from auto and diesel mechanics, electricians, plumbers, carpenters, masons, brick layers, welders, cooks, cleaners to higher skills of nurses, accountants, architects, doctors and a multitude of other skills. In its pursuit of becoming a clever country, and with a small population of 22.5 million, Australia has gone up the ladder in education and professions. It’s citizens are not attracted by the more difficult proposition of being skilled workers or a tradesmen.
Average wage for a cook with some 5 years experience and some acceptable qualification starts on $120,000 per annum, with food and accommodation provided by the mining companies. One mining company alone, which has some 2000 employees on site, needs 60 cooks on an annual basis, in addition to skilled labour across every facet of the mining industry. There is also a big demand for mining engineers, mechanics, doctors and nurses who are all paid an average of $200,000 per year.
The Australian Immigration program is now focussed on attracting educated professionals and skilled migrants to come to Australia, settle down and make a decent living. It is a paradise for workers where all their rights are well protected and are paid handsomely for what they do. Quality of life in Australia is also regarded as one of the highest in the world. On an annual basis, Australia targets some 200,000 skilled migrants to enter the country. As it economy expands and booms, it would require many more.
Here may be a clear opportunity to Georgians to take advantage of existing skill shortages, not only in Australia, but in a number of other countries including Western Europe and the United States. The crux of the issue however is how would Georgia begin to develop a large pool of exportable skills which meet stringent international standards. How would it change its educational and training focus from churning out large numbers of graduates with degrees in humanities and social sciences who remain unemployed for long periods or are under-employed. How could Georgia develop a complete strategy of becoming a highly skilled nation whose citizens are in demand anywhere in the world. How would Georgia address the critical shortages of highly qualified and experienced lecturers and trainers who can guide this nation toward maturity and world class skills.
My observation thus far is that Georgia is a talented nation, with a great mixture of positive energy and attitude, but much of its talent needs to be streamlined and actualised into producing talented and skilled workforce which can have great value not merely as a major revenue generator, but as a critical resource for Georgia’s own development. A month ago, I placed an advertisement for a Program Assistant with requirements of specific skills. I received a total of 2300 applications with an average age of 26 and a benchmark qualification at Master’s level. There has been a constant theme in all the applications: much of the education is in humanities and social sciences without any specific and employable skills in a corporate environment. Developing young graduates and non-graduates into employable and productive forces is an essential element of a national development strategy.
As globalization takes root, foreign direct investment and cross border transactions are liberalised, one finds sudden changes in the mobility of labour. Large number of unskilled and skilled labour force is criss-crossing countries in search of better wages. Modern Middle East was largely built by imported skilled and unskilled labour from Asia and Africa. Multinationals in mining and manufacturing have a culturally diverse international workforce with varied levels of core competencies. The stamp of nationality and stereotyped cultural identities affixed to workforce of other countries are being peeled away to create a new skill-based identity of one being a world class surgeon or world class cook. It is a redeeming change and an acceptance of an important human paradigm that when it comes to a body of knowledge or a set of skills, there is no learning barrier to a specific race or a nation.
It is also becoming significantly clear that men and women in the developing world are showing greater resilience and greater strength in their work environments and are producing more than their counterparts in the developed world. Sainsbury’s, one of the three largest supermarket chains in the United Kingdom has over 60% of its 165,000 workforce coming from non-British backgrounds. Research has shown that they perform significantly higher than those of their British counterparts. This may largely be due to the fact that there is more pressure on non-British workers to demonstrate their capacities, but it also shows that when it comes to skills set, workers from the developing countries can work equally or better.
Tourism is a major revenue earner where visitors bring their money into another country. Skilled migration is the reverse of tourism where workforce from one nation goes to another nation to make a living and send its savings back to their home country. But it is not just about money alone. They gain a different dimension in their work ethics and attitudes as well as in the absorption of varied cultural dimensions. Their horizons expand and when they return home, there is always a significant difference in their attitude to life. They bring back a measure of positive dynamism which is distinctly different from those who may not have had an exposure overseas.
There are thousands of Georgians working in the United states and in Europe. Most of them work as unskilled labour, taking low wages to support their families back home. Their inward remittances contribute to a substantial portion of the national income. It would be magic if Georgia develops a strategy to send a million highly skilled workforce, including professionals overseas per year during a five year period. There could be a sea change in Georgia’s income generation strategy.