The turning point: Russian seafood companies finding new ways to woo workers

Published on
July 19, 2019

Welcome to Part II of SeafoodSource’s series investigating the factors contributing to what has become one of the primary obstacles of development for Russia’s seafood sector at large: a lack of skilled labor.

The initial installment of this two-part series, “Workforce shortage stalemating progress for Russian fisheries,” focused on the histories that have informed – and hindered – Russia’s fisheries workforce. 

Now, we hone in on the strategies and practices that could turn things around for Russia’s seafood sector in terms of worker engagement. 

Practice makes perfect

Russian officials are starting to notice the workforce shortage in the country’s fisheries sector – as well as the flaws in its education system – and are making efforts to tackle these issues at the college, high school, and business levels. 

In January 2019, the Far Eastern State Technical Fishery University (FESTFU) adopted a three-year strategy approved by the Russian Federal Agency for Fisheries designed to transform the education process into something more practice-oriented. Ambitious targets are set to be achieved upon the program’s completion: 100 percent of the students will have a work experience internship, and 90 percent of graduates will stay to work in the industry depending on background. 

The program suggests requirements be tightened for both professor and students, with more attention paid toward practicality during the education process. By adopting this approach, the university will be more flexible to react to the challenges of a fast-changing labor market, program proponents argue. 

“The fishery high schools and colleges need to deeply cooperate with companies to be better prepared for future employers’ requirements,” said Ilia Shestakov, head of the Federal Agency Fisheries, commenting the new FESTFU’s initiative. 

“The education system must teach not only how to fish, but also how to promote seafood, control supply chains, store it, sell it, etc.,” said Vasiliy Sokolov, the body’s deputy head, according to the agency’s press service. 

Other measures taken by the agency include focusing on training managers already involved in the seafood business. To this aim, the agency plans on establishing special education centers dedicated to helping experienced professionals continually upgrading their skills. The centers will likely be established within colleges and universities, the agency said back in April of this year. Tasks of these new establishments will include education of managers as well as experience exchange. Professionals from the industry will supposedly be among the professors brought in to share their skills and knowledge with colleagues. 

"Friendly employers" playing first fiddle 

While the skills shortage issue had become particularly thorny a few years ago, the government has started taking active steps to tackle the problem recently – the results of which will really begin to take hold a few years down the line. 

What have businesses done in the meantime? Some have started massively implementing incentives programs, providing benefits, and taking on apprentices while eagerly looking for possible new recruits outside of fishery regions.

According to a report from the Far Eastern Agency for Development of Human Resources (FEADHR), 89 percent of Russia’s fisheries that were surveyed said they provide meal service for their workforce, 71 percent said they pay for relocation and temporary accommodation rents, and 60 percent said they paid for workers’ insurance. A few major fisheries have even contributed modern equipment to FESTFU to help students to acquire useful skills. 

The Russian Fishery Company established a corporate crewing center in Vladivostok to hire shipping personnel. Due to a simplified and comfortable documentation process, an applicant needs to spend only one to two days to get his papers cleared and be hired, according to the firm. 

The company has also started cooperation programs with education establishments to enable high-skilled personnel to work on modern vessels. As SeafoodSource reported, the Russian Fishery Company will build six super trawlers, which require trained workers. The business’s CEO Fyodor Kirsanov said in an interview with Russia’s Fishnews agency that the fishery was interested in hiring foreign specialists to fill some vacancies, as the Russian labor market and education system cannot provide shipping personnel capable of running the state-of-art, high-tech vessels, which are expected to be delivered within two years. 

Dobroflot, a Russian Far East-based fishery, has been conducting PR-campaigns to promote its image as an employee-friendly, generous, supportive employer through various channels. It regularly organizes tours and excursions to its vessels for teenagers as a means to get them acquainted with fishing and seafood processing professions. The company also hosts meetings with students and graduates. 

Additionally, Dobroflot founded its own training center to educate future staff quickly and efficiently, and has teamed up with FEADHR to look for recruits in distant regions, going as far as getting them state-funded accommodation in order to stimulate relocation and employment. 

Oceanrybflot, another fishery from the Russian Far East, has been actively bringing apprentices from all over the country to its region since 2010 – apprentices have been know to come from as far as Kaliningrad, located more than 7,500 kilometers away. Moreover, the company organizes an annual work experience internship for 160 students, 15 percent of whom eventually join the fishery’s staff. 

The “friendly employer” strategy seems to be the best tool to fill the labor gap right now. If backed up by the government’s efforts to enhance the performance of the education system, such an approach can really tackle the workforce crisis coming. But if the government fails, the fishery industry will have to deal with it itself – a challenge with a hard-to-predict ending.

Reporting from Saint Petersburg, Russia

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