Are there labour shortages? It’s time to call on compatriots who have emigrated

Kaunas Free Economic Zone

Discussions about the shortage of skilled workers and how to attract them have been increasingly focussing on Lithuanian citizens who have emigrated yet are considering returning to Lithuania – not least because the number of those returning to their homeland, or who are seriously considering doing so, is growing yearly. Emigrants – skilled workers in particular – are also welcomed by large companies promising long-term career prospects, Živilė Navickaitė-Babkin wrote.

Milda Jankauskienė, a spokesperson for the Employment Service, has emphasised that, when it comes to attracting necessary specialists, it is crucial to understand that offering a job alone is not enough. “Employers should advertise specific job offers with clear financial and career prospect guidelines. Government representatives should also recognise that a returning individual gets to decide not only on their employment status but also on issues related to their place of residence, their children’s schools or daycare options, along with the employment or health of other family members. An emigrant will be required to make a decision that will be weighted, and vague promises do not help with the decision-making process,” she says, emphasising the importance of a comprehensive approach.

Returning emigrants could boost regional economies

M. Jankauskienė has mentioned that, at the beginning of this year, a study was conducted which aimed to examine the significantly changed attitude of emigrants on the prospect of their returning to Lithuania: “Currently, as many as 55% of emigrants see their future connected with Lithuania. This is a 15% increase, compared to three years ago. Interestingly, those living abroad for more than 10 years and who have had many opportunities to integrate into another country are more often considering returning.”

The spokesperson points out that an increasing number of those who dream of returning would like to settle not in major cities but in the regions: “Compared to the previous survey, there has been a 2.2% decrease in those wanting to live in major cities and a 2.9% increase in those wanting to live in regions.”

One of the regions experiencing not only an increase in job opportunities but also population growth is the Kaunas district. The Mayor of the district, Valerijus Makūnas, has stated that, according to the latest data from the Registry Centre, the Kaunas district has already reached a population of 113,000.

“It’s one of the fastest-growing municipalities in the country. In 2022 alone, we gained nearly 6,000 residents. This growth is due to both birth rates and migration, both internal and international. With the war in Ukraine, we have provided shelter for approximately 2,500 refugees. Our compatriots who worked abroad in the past are also returning and eagerly settling in the Kaunas district, often choosing housing in the Užliedžiai, Domeikava, Karmėlava, and Raudondvaris regions,” the spokesperson commented enthusiastically.

The subject of attraction is the Kaunas Free Economic Zone (FEZ)

One of the main reasons why working and living in the Kaunas district becomes highly attractive, according to V. Makūnas, is the fact that it is home to the largest Free Economic Zone (FEZ) in Lithuania, where globally renowned companies such as Continental, Hollister Incorporated, and Hella operate.

“The FEZ is home to around a hundred local and international companies employing over six thousand people, with a total project investment value of 1.35 billion euros,” says the Mayor of the Kaunas district. He is pleased that the FEZ is becoming a centre of attraction: “Even though, at this time, the majority of those working in the FEZ are residents of Kaunas city and the Kaunas district, there are quite a few employees coming from Jonava, Raseiniai, Kaišiadorys municipalities, and Vilnius.”

Kaunas’ Free Economic Zone

Shayan Ali, the head of Continental Automotive Lithuania and Continental Autonomous Mobility, maintains that the company is looking for specialists within and beyond the Kaunas district and the country’s borders. According to him, the company already employs around 800 workers. “We expect to continue growing steadily by several hundred employees each year until we reach our target of 1,500 employees,” commented this spokesperson with regard to the company’s long-term plans. And there are quite a few such companies in Lithuania.

Skilled workers are the greatest asset

When it comes to naming the reasons for the company’s decision to invest in Lithuania, Sh. Ali highlights the favourable business environment and the related scientific potential. However, he emphasises that people are the company’s greatest asset: “The employees here are not only qualified but also motivated to work and excel in the technology field.”

Nevertheless, finding employees in certain areas sometimes takes a fair bit of time, even among the most attractive employers. “We definitely do face challenges finding quality control and equipment maintenance specialists. There is also a significant shortage of experienced engineers and technicians who are cognisant with production equipment maintenance,” the spokesperson points out.

Shayan Ali, the head of Continental Automotive Lithuania and Continental Autonomous Mobility

He also mentions that the company is seeking specialists within the Kaunas district and beyond the country’s borders. “Together with colleagues from other electronics manufacturing companies, we have determined that, having given all our plans the due consideration, we can see that, in the Kaunas region, we will need several thousand more electronics specialists. This prompted us to reconsider our strategies and look for new ideas on how to promote the development of technical knowledge among specialists required for our activities,” he says.

Vytautas Petružis, the CEO of the Kaunas Free Economic Zone (FEZ) management company, is convinced that foreign direct investments can and do contribute to positive demographic indicators in the Kaunas region. “The fact that the population is growing in the Kaunas district is, of course, not solely attributable to the companies operating in the Kaunas FEZ; it’s a result of the region’s policies as a whole. Ultimately, our environment and conditions motivate competent specialists to return to the Kaunas region from abroad. Since businesses established here create high-value production, they can offer competitive salaries (which surpass the Lithuanian average) and attractive career opportunities,” says the spokesperson.

Indeed, the Mayor of the Kaunas district does not hide the fact that the rapid expansion of the FEZ means particular challenges for local residents. With this, the municipality, according to its capabilities, has invested in infrastructure and sought common solutions with the leaders of companies operating in the FEZ on how to improve it. “More than 2,500 new places for pre-schoolers have already been created, stadiums are being renovated, schools are being modernised, and new educational institutions are being built,” he says.

V. Makūnas has emphasised that the benefits of companies located in the FEZ go beyond investments, job creation, and tax contributions – they also benefit local communities: “Companies purchase a significant amount of raw materials, services, and long-term assets. More than a third of these needs are satisfied through local suppliers, who, in turn, contribute to the region’s growth and the entire country’s economy.”

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