News2019.04.17 11:31

Paradox of Lithuanian labour market: aging population and ageism

Emigration and demography has left a huge hole in Lithuania's labour market. 57-year-olds are now the dominant age group, yet observers note a paradox: employers complain about employee shortage at the same time as elder people still struggle to find a job.

Stasys Bertys has finished his morning shift as a long-distance bus driver and is about to hand over the steering wheel to his colleague, Sigitas Sakalauskas.

Both are in their 70s, but assure that they are still full of energy. They have been working at the long-distance bus company Kautra for half a century.

“I'm old and don't need to sleep that much. Health is still good. I can see well, no need to wear glasses,” says Stasys.

His colleague, Sigitas, assures that their employers are happy with their work. “They've got less trouble with us. We're a little more interested in vehicles,” he says.

Sigitas and Stasys take care of the bus as if it were their own, Kautra management agrees. They are also very polite with passengers and true professionals of their trade.

In Lithuania, however, employers valuing their elder employees seems to be an exception rather than a rule.

Almost 70,000 people over the age of 50 were out of work last year. Almost 20,000 have registered with the Labour Exchange this year.

Labour Exchange specialists say that employers shun older job seekers because they are more set in their ways, less malleable and, importantly, are more likely to speak their mind.

“Some must have experienced themselves how difficult it is to get into the Lithuanian labour market once you're over 40,” says Linas Kukuraitis, Lithuania's social security and labour minister. “And it's paradoxical that, with labour in short supply, there should be so much ageism in the labour market, in business, in the public sector as well.”

Statisticians forecast that, by 2025, Lithuania's working-age population will have shrunk by 180,000, a significant share for a country of under 3 million.

Business representatives say this is bad news for the economy with fewer consumers and fewer tax payers. Businesses will have to start hiring more older workers for want of other options.

“Germany's BMW is already preparing for older people staying longer in the labour market, adapting workplaces so that older workers can sit comfortably, look at bigger screens, press bigger buttons,” says Robertas Dargis, president of the Lithuanian Confederation of Industrialists, an employer organisation.

But, the Labour Exchange adds, employees themselves must learn to adapt as well, as skills required by today's labour market barely existed even a decade ago.

“In 2014, we had a number of jobs for cashiers and mostly elder people applied for them. In 2019, the profession is shrinking fast. And there appear more jobs for professions we didn't use to think were in demand,” according to Ligita Valolytė, director of the Labour Exchange.

Disabled people and long-term unemployed are also potential sources of labour. Employers and economists say that immigration could also help make up for the shortage, but the Lithuanian government does not have a consistent policy.

The economist Raimondas Kuodis says that while, for instance, Estonia has clearly decided to favour Estonians, encouraging repatriation and higher fertility, Lithuania has yet to pick a path. “As it is, were are torn between different interests. Like a ship without direction,” he quips.

LRT has been certified according to the Journalism Trust Initiative Programme

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