Shortage of welders
Estonia has had a shortage of highly qualified welders already since years and the largest company of metalworking in Estonia, the Tallinn Shipyard of BLRT Grupp has had to import welders from Ukraine, Romania, China, Poland etc. There are approximately 300 foreign highly skilled workers currently employed at the enterprises of the Baltic Ship Renovation Factory. At the same time the Estonian public opinion finds that importing foreign workers is wrong when unemployment levels in Estonia are already high. The Tallinn Shipyard has tried to explain that the foreign specialists have skills that the local welders do not have and that by working with the local welders they also share their knowledge, pay taxes in Estonia, use Estonian services and consume Estonian products. But these arguments have convinced nobody thus far.
The Estonian Government has tried to solve the emerging problem by offering welding courses free of charge (in collaboration with ESF). Thus many Estonian welders are attending courses at the Tallinn Lasnamäe School of Mechanics. The courses have been very popular also because the quality of the welding courses is good.
The welders leave
Mati Sarapuu, head of the department of adult training, notes that now most of the adult education courses at the Tallinn Lasnamäe School of Mechanics are welding course. Never-the-less the lack of highly qualified welders in Estonia has not disappeared. The reason is simple – most welders, have considered the prospects of working in Finland, Sweden, Norway, Germany, Switzerland etc already before signing up for the course. And after having attained the European certificate of qualification, the majority will go abroad.
Mati Sarapuu remembers a case where a person that had been employed as a welder in Germany came back to Estonia to take the welding course and after having received the European certificate, returned to Germany, where he could now ask for a higher salary. Mati Sarapuu sais half-jokingly that the Tallinn Lasnamäe School of Mechanics has turned into a European Union training centre where almost all the European countries get highly qualified welders. Sarapuu does not think that his school should not train welders for other countries. Since the courses are funded by the European Union, it makes perfect sense to train welders for European countries. But the problem is still that there are not enough highly qualified welders in Estonia and the Tallinn Shipyard of BLRT Grupp and other Estonian metal work enterprises have to import welders from Ukraine, Romania, China and other countries where salaries are lower than in Estonia.
The Estonian government has further tried to improve the situation with the campaign “Talents home!” which calls for all Estonian experts currently working abroad to return to Estonia. The ship repair company joined the campaign and indeed 50 welders returned from Germany and the Nordic countries to work at the BLRT. But soon enough it became evident that these welders did not return voluntarily. The financial crisis had arrived in the Nordic countries, too and the redundant welders found temporary work in Estonia.