December 18, 2018 — When German tech firm Helmholz Systems opened a satellite office in Croatia four years ago, it assumed there’d be several headaches.
A lack of competent and qualified job candidates wasn’t on the list, according to Zadarski.hr.
The company posted three jobs on a well-known job advertising site in 2018. It hired only one person.
The owner of the company, according to employees, opened the office in Zadar after spending the summer in Sukošan, a port within the county. He liked the environs and heard Croatia produced good engineers and workers.
The 30-year-old parent company already had about one hundred employees in Germany. It seemed a good fit.
The firm opened operations in Croatia — a Zadar-based subsidiary focusing on component manufacturing (software and hardware) for industrial process automation and networking.
Its products include programs that, for example, allow someone from Germany to operate a machine located in a Brazilian factory. Firms as large as Coca-Cola and Audi use Helmholz’s tech.
Ivan Ignac, a 33-year-old engineer from Dakovo, came to Zadar along with his girlfriend in 2011. Two years later, he became the first employee of the development office of Helmholz Systems’ fledgeling operations in Croatia.
Soon, he was head of the Zadar office. Ignac could not even dream of having a problem with finding employees.
There are currently seven people employed in the company’s Croatian headquarters. He has been intensively looking for new workers, young engineers and experts; no one is applying.
“Very few companies in Croatia, especially in Zadar, have the range of products we do,” Ignac said in an interview. “So we have a weaker response to job ads.”
New hires first go to training in Germany. They then return to Zadar and receive a permanent contract, under the terms agreed with the Germans, according to Ignac. Several of Helmholz’s employees are locals.
“I think that they have already worked in other places, most often in Zagreb, and now they want to continue with a more peaceful life,” Ignac said. He added that some who wanted to work for them did not want to move to Zadar.
“True, the city still has some infrastructure problems, but I see it improving,” he said.
The company’s tech niche immediately limits the number of qualified applicants in an already-shrinking market. But Ignac said few even bother calling to ask if a job is available.
“People can send us a job applications regardless of whether or not a position is open,” he said. “Our interest in a quality workforce is ongoing.”
The office manager explained the usual succession of headaches when a position is posted online. Ten people may apply, but only about half of them know something about the field.
Of these five, one usually does not appear for an interview. The remaining four confirm the appointment but in the meantime, one or two find employment elsewhere.
In the end, there are two or three people with whom Ignac conducts a job interview.
Ignac explained that a university degree isn’t the primary qualification, but the knowledge that the candidate possesses.
First, he or she must know how to read the products’ documentation, have experience with electronic components, programming code, be able to “debug” the products and add new features.
Helmholz’s parent company wants to expand its operations in Croatia. Ignac says their medium-term goals are to grow by up to 20 people. With that sort of team, the Croatian office can develop a whole product alone without the participation of colleagues from Germany. Long-term goals include a fully-developed production, which would employ a minimum of 50 workers.
The only problem with all these goals? The lack of skilled labour.
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