Talent development on the Russian labour market – the gap between knowledge and competences

Today, the Russian labour market is characterised by a large availability of highly qualified workers. The Russian education system focuses strongly on knowledge acquisition. “As a result, Russian managers are very good at in-depth problem analysis”, says Dirk Buyens, Human Resources Professor at Vlerick Business School. “However, they were often not taught to think in a solution-oriented manner, and fail to focus sufficiently on market demands.” Can management courses help close that gap between knowledge and business skills among Russian managers? That was the key question at the panel debate that marked the official opening of the new Vlerick campus in St Petersburg.

Education based on knowledge

Compared to other emerging economies Russia has very high education standards, particularly in the fields of science and engineering. Consequently, there is large pool of highly educated workers. In other countries too, graduates do not always meet the requirements of the labour market, but in Russia the problem seems to be somewhat more pronounced.
“This is mainly the result of an excessively strong focus on knowledge acquisition”, explains Dirk Buyens, who moderated the panel debate. “In our ever-changing society you also need to be able to question existing knowledge, acquire new knowledge and/or convert this knowledge into concrete skills or behaviours. Russian managers often lack the competences required to develop business solutions based on consumer demand. Since market-oriented thinking was not considered important in the past, employers now often have no choice but to employ highly qualified people for rather simple positions. You could say that, in a way, they are overqualified. That being said, Russian engineers may have equally strong or even stronger analytical skills than Belgian engineers, but they lack the necessary market-related competencies.”

A lack of market awareness

 The Russian internal market offers enormous potential, both in terms of B2B and B2C. However, the Russians tend to prefer foreign products and services, because locally, they are incapable of developing high-quality products and services that also meet the demand. “That is quite different from China for example, where they are masters at copying products, which allows them to launch their own high-quality brands on the market at half the price. An example? Huawei smartphones. Today, Russia produces many products for foreign companies, making the most of low prices and natural resources. In the past, there were no market mechanisms, so there was no need to train people to think in a market-oriented manner. Today, the situation has somewhat changed, but it is still a slow process, which results in a very difficult development of Russian manufacturing for the internal market. It therefore comes as no surprise that the major brands on the Russian market are Western brands”, Dirk explains.
In Russia, technical aspects tend to prevail over market-oriented approaches. “The result? Technical masterpieces for which there is no demand.”

Focus on finance and marketing

So how can this knowledge, which is clearly available, be converted into something consumers need and want? Dirk sees two major solutions. “On the one hand, we need to focus more on entrepreneurship. The current entrepreneurial climate is not ideal, so people are not willing to invest in this aspect. There is plenty of available office space, there is a good road network, there are networking opportunities etc., but the administration still leaves much to be desired and the law is not implemented in a correct and consistent manner.”

On the other hand, Dirk believes that more Western management courses can help close the gap and change the general mind-set. “Particularly our insights in finance and marketing are unknown territory for Russian managers. For years, finance was not considered important, because the state had full control over everything. Marketing was also low on the priority list. It is remarkable that Russian managers rarely realised the importance of a good presentation. They never learned to step into the shoes of a salesperson. Having something to offer is not enough. You have to be able to sell it too. Most managers who attend these courses work for international companies, but in my experience, they still fail to give presentation and persuasion techniques the attention they deserve. Some also underestimate that the value of a message is not only determined by its content, but also by its form.”

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