Unemployment Insurance Fund: Major labor shortage remaining in Estonia

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The Unemployment Insurance Fund (Töötukassa) office on Tartu's Vaksali Street, Source: Aili Vahtla/ERR

A recent prognosis by the Unemployment Insurance Fund on the need for labor shows that no major changes have taken place compared with the assessment made in fall 2020 - while there has been much talk about underemployment in the light of the COVID-19 crisis, pre-crisis workforce shortage is increasingly returning.

Similarly to a study conducted last year, there is currently a shortage of audiologists and speech therapists as well as of software developers, the Unemployment Insurance Fund said.

Livia Laas, the board's spokesperson, explained that while there are people with an IT background in Estonia, a large share of them are middle-ranking specialists; meanwhile, there is a shortage of both top specialists as well as people performing minor IT works.

A large shortage of carers has emerged in health care establishments. "This was sharply demonstrated by the end of last year when coronavirus figures became critical and both residents and workers at care homes contracted the virus - finding workforce was difficult then and remains difficult now," Laas said.

Finding employees for positions located in areas where transport links are poor is even more difficult. This affects smaller rural areas in particular, as accessing the place or work is complicated in many cases by a lack of a driver's license and poor public transport service.

This is also the case for care homes struggling with labor shortage - commuting is a concern for care homes located in rural areas, particularly during night shifts.

"An increasing number of employers have begun looking for a solution for this problem," Laas said. Shuttles transporting employees to the workplace and back is one of the solutions; however, not all employers are able to offer this service, she added.

There is also a shortage of skilled workers, such as welders. "Today, there is once more a major labor shortage in certain fields in Estonia," Laas noted.

The spokeswoman for the Unemployment Insurance Fund said that the positive news from the workers' perspective is that no significant underemployment was detected in this year's assessment. "The barometer from last fall showed that tourism and travel had suffered a hard blow at the time and there was a surplus of workers in that field. There is no such surplus today, fortunately," she added.

Minor underemployment is emerging in administrative positions, which are gradually being taken over by technology. "For instance data-processing managers, accountants and assistants - in these positions, computers are doing a large share of the work. This means that less human workforce is needed," Laas noted.

In conclusion, the barometer and the perspective of employers both show that the coronavirus crisis has not caused any great changes or confusion in the labor market. "The number of jobs has decreased, of course, and employers have been struggling; however, there aren't at present any drastic shocks like during the previous crisis in 2008," she said.

Laas added that even though the number of unemployed people has grown by 20,000 compared to last year, this figure has begun declining over the past couple of months and the labor market is gradually recovering.

The Unemployment Insurance Fund began its studies of demand for manpower in 2016. The study aims to map out shortages and surpluses in workforce in different fields, broken down by county. The study is carried out annually in April and October and the results are announced within a few months after that.

The prognoses are drawn up by employer consultants at the Unemployment Insurance Fund's regional departments with contributions made also by external experts, such as regional development centers, vocational and higher education establishments, employers and employment portals.

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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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