September 10, 2019 – As more and more Croatians emigrate for jobs in Ireland and Germany, are there well-paid Croatian jobs that are being left unfilled? Yes…
When I first moved to Dalmatia back in 2003, I became obsessed by the barter system which made society function. There did not seem to be much interest in paying tax, or indeed much interaction with State institutions at all, and some of the ‘kompenzacija’ deals were hilarious. An electrician being paid in fish or a plumber in wine were relatively common transactions, but I did wonder how my lawyer was going to get through the compensation deal he agreed to with a baker client ahead of me in the queue. From memory, it was something like five loaves of bread a day, every day, for the next three years.
And the jobs got done. It was a delightfully colourful detail to the chilled way of life and the perfect introduction to the laid-back Dalmatian way of life.
And then things changed, or perhaps it was my romantic view of things became a little less rose-tinted.
The handymen – especially the good and reliable ones – became ever harder to find. Whereas there seemed – at least to me – to be a fairer balance between supply and demand back then, the situation seems to have changed very much in recent years, where the ‘majstor’ is king and can dictate when he comes. If he comes at all.
And if you need a majstor at short notice in the middle of the season… disaster!
As with other countries in the world, finding a reliable majstor was also a challenge. We were fortunate to have one such majstor who we used several times for tiling. He came, I think, from Zagreb, and would get his jobs through word of mouth. When he had enough jobs on Hvar, he would come down for a 2-3 week period. His quality was the best I have seen in Croatia, his prices (75 kuna per m2) also the best, but what really made him stand out was his reliability. He would say the number of days the job would take and what time he would come. He was never a minute late, and he always finished ahead of schedule.
He was also the exception.
EU entry brought numerous changes to Croatia, not least easier freedom of movement and employment in other EU countries. Croatians working in Germany is nothing new of course, but new opportunities such as Ireland presented themselves. Tired of the nepotism and corruption, as well as the perceived lack of economic opportunity, tens of thousands of Croatia’s bright young talented and experienced workers have left.
One of the paradoxes of Croatia (for a list of 25 great paradoxes, check out this great article from Goran Antonijevic), is that while there is high unemployment, there is always a labour shortage, particularly on the coast in the tourist season. The usual reasons cited are low wages and the availability mostly of only seasonal jobs. Why work in Croatia when you can earn double, or even triple in Germany.
It is an argument I understand completely. Money is sadly the driving factor for many out of necessity, and the harsher life in other countries has become a reality over the Croatian lifestyle and life with family. And those majstori have followed the rest and largely gone in search of higher wages elsewhere.
The result? It is even harder to find handymen of any kind – electricians, plumbers, builders, tilers, even cleaners. And the demand is greater than ever.
A friend of mine was working on opening a new boutique hotel on the Dalmatian coast last summer, and her biggest problem was finding reliable majstori who could do the job and on time. After a desperate search and a few false starts trying to find tilers, she eventually found one who did the job to a satisfactory level for more than double the price of my Hvar tiler. The tiling delay led to a delayed opening and lost revenue for the hotel.
“And I was certainly not alone. I know of many others stressing about the season as there are so few quality tilers to meet the huge demand. I would not be surprised to see Italian tilers start to come to Croatia. There is a huge need and people will pay for quality and reliability. It is simply too hard to find the right people at the moment.”
That conversation took place back in May, but it stayed with me all summer, as I heard more and more people all over the country complaining that they could not find majstori.
And it got me thinking that maybe there was a big opportunity being missed where skilled workers could remain with their families and the great Croatian lifestyle and make a good wage. Perhaps not the same as in Germany, but when you factor in the cost of living, lifestyle and chance to watch their kids grow up, perhaps a better overall package.
People growing up in Croatia are not entrepreneurial by nature, hardly surprising as they are the products of a socialist system. A skilled electrician, tiler or plumber may not have even considered starting a business – much easier and more secure to take a salary in Germany.
But what if conditions could be provided for the handymen of Croatia to become entrepreneurs in their own country, charge a fair price for excellent service and deliver that excellent service? It would not only keep families together but also provide a much better service for people living here. There is an appetite to pay for quality, and in my opinion, there would be no shortage of work. Word of mouth works best in these situations, and the great handymen would find them very much in demand and able to build sustainable businesses.
The main issue to resolve is how to give those non-entrepreneurial handymen the confidence to say no to the German wage and pave the way for a successful career and business in their homeland. A key element in this is the trade-off between German higher salary (albeit with higher cost of living) and Croatian lifestyle. While it would be nice to have an equal amount, the benefits of lifestyle and family mean that a somewhat reduced income would be acceptable.
That is where the politicians come in. For years now, we have been hearing of how they want to stop the emigration and create jobs in Croatia without actually doing anything concrete. Here is an opportunity to develop a scheme which will improve the quality of life in Croatia, keep families together and make a tiny dent in those depressing emigration figures. Help the handymen to become entrepreneurs through training, incentives, marketing, provide a stamp of quality and reliability that consumers can learn to trust. Do a study and find out what other jobs would benefit from such a scheme (cleaners and property management for sure).
Croatia would be a better place for it.