A new target for Estonia – a podium place in the global competition for talent

In order to be competitive also in the future global talent market, Estonia needs to build an attractive environment that provides everything necessary for people and their families near where they live, Kalle Palling, an Estonian MP, writes.

The future of work will be one of the greatest challenges in the coming years – what will be the relations between technology and people, and what will our work relationships be like. It is high time to consider this, because things that are “normal” for us today in the relations between the employer and the employee date from the period after the Industrial Revolution and have essentially remained unchanged. What’s more, the competition between countries for talents – for creating the best environment for the emergence of future jobs and for attracting the best companies – is in full swing. The question is: will we train ourselves for this race, or will we let things go their own way?

It is a fact that many of the traditional jobs will disappear, also in Estonia. On the one hand, it is influenced by the economic situation. On the other, the development of IT solutions has dramatically accelerated across the world in the last decades, and most of us were unable to predict the extent of many of those changes and their impact on Estonia. Who could have thought that Skype, a global telecommunication company, would be founded in Tallinn, or that Taxify, which will soon be the transport company with the most extensive scope, would also be governed from the Estonian capital?

Development starts from changing the way of thinking

Why should we talk about the talent hunt between the countries? If we do not think about it today and if we do not act systematically in the name of the competitiveness of the business environment, we essentially abandon the education of our children, the pensions and the financing of healthcare. If we don’t change anything now but want to improve and retain our quality of life, then – considering the demographic developments – we will have to collect more taxes from a smaller number of people in order to keep our state. Recently, I was a speaker at a conference where it was aptly said, “The greatest challenge for countries today is to get the citizens of other countries to pay for the welfare of their people.”

Cheap labour force is not something Estonia can use for staying in the competition at the European and also at the global level. The million-dollar question is what niche can we offer the most added value. Technology, innovation and creating the best growth environment for it come to mind. But we must start from changing the often-prevailing protectionist way of thinking – because talents and successful enterprises go where there is a good integrated environment.

The state can do a lot in the name of the environment, but local governments have the decisive role. The question therefore is: how many of our local governments participate in the global hunt for talents and cooperate with companies?

The development of technology creates new jobs

Economist Enrico Moretti from the University of California, Berkeley, has written in his book, “The New Geography of Jobs”, that each job created in the high technology sector will create additional five jobs in other sectors. Therefore, there is no reason to fear that the development of technology and digitalisation will take work away from people. On the contrary, thanks to the development of technology, wider introduction of its achievements and new opportunities, new jobs are created. We must grasp this possibility and develop Estonia into the best environment for high-added-value jobs and the additional jobs that are created with them.

The economic environment and the salary numbers certainly have an important role here, but in choosing the place of work, more and more attention is paid to whether there is everything that is necessary for a family. Or, once again, the right environment is more important for talent than ever before. For example, Harku Parish (a rural municipality, neighbouring Estonia’s capital, Tallinn) has a plan to establish an international school and kindergarten spots for the children of those families that have come from a foreign country and use their knowledge and skills for the development of the economy of our country.

The e-state shows the way

One of the indisputable advantages of Estonia is the as-digital-as-possible communication between the state and its citizens. Has this taken work away from the people? Quite the opposite, it has made the citizens’ communication with the state more convenient and enabled the public-sector employees to focus on what is important. It has also made it possible to pay them a better salary.

Estonia is known and acknowledged in the world for its developed digital society and the bold introduction of innovative solutions. We have every possibility to be the spokesperson and the pioneer of future solutions. Why not create in Estonia a safe platform for testing digital and technological developments? In a strong digital state like Estonia, the whole society is ready to test new solutions. But our e-state also needs constant renewal and developing, and some of the solutions that are being used now are already becoming outdated.

At the end of the last year, a report by McKinsey Global Institute recommended progressive states, among other things, increase the share of digital and automated work and to introduce new skills, particularly technical, social and creative skills, because the importance of such skills would grow.

Therefore, we do not need the Posted Workers Directive (an EU directive – editor), a basic income, greater social benefits. What we need is rapid implementation of technology, re-training of people and the education system that supports such development – especially if we consider Estonia’s ambition to build a global borderless digital state together with a community of e-residents.

Humanity and creativity become ever more important

To the joy of sceptics, it must be said that there are jobs that most probably can never be totally automated, because we need the human dimension in our daily lives – the dimension that, from the mechanical point of view, is inclined to make mistakes.

We can use education as an example here. We may have access to great teaching materials on the internet, but the internet will never replace a charismatic teacher. The same also applies to the sphere of culture and fine arts. Hopefully we will not be able to imagine going to a theatre where the text is presented by a robot. The moment of spontaneity and a certain risk that is a part of each cultural event makes them unique.

It is a matter of choice whether we will jog behind the development of technology and feel bad about missing the train – or be the country that others look at with a little envy and think, paraphrasing the former US president, Barack Obama, that they should have turned to the Estonians for advice when they invented a solution.

In conclusion:

The hunt for talent is ongoing. The question is – can the state and local governments see broader economic and social benefit in it and participate in it actively?

For a talent, the environment that provides everything necessary for their family is more important than salary. What are we ready to do in the name of a more attractive environment?

Digitalisation is the keyword of the coming years. Are we ready to take our e-state to the next level?



The opinions in this article are those of the author. The cover image is illustrative (Shutterstock).

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About the author: Kalle Palling

Kalle Palling is an Estonian politician, representing the Reform Party.