Despite recent growth of immigration, Lithuania's workforce continues to shrink and, with automation, the number of jobs may decrease drastically in the coming decades.
Remigijus Usonis is now training to be a firefighter in Lithuania. He had lived abroad for 15 years before deciding to return, partly because of his old dream of working in rescue service.
“My family is also in Lithuania, we all came back together,” he says. “This is where I was born and grew up, I feel better in Lithuania.”
The final push came when the Fire and Rescue Department raised the age limit for would-be firefighters and Remigijus could join the force.
The Department now trains 11 former expatriates who, for various reasons, have recently returned from emigration.
Lithuania has had negative net migration since 1992 and saw its population shrank from 3.7 million in the early 90s to under 3 million today.
This year saw the trend reverse for the first time in nearly three decades: slightly more people arrived in the country than left. Most of the arrivals were not, however, Lithuanian expatriates like Remigijus, but migrants from outside the European Union.
This is significant for the country's economic development, Vitas Vasiliauskas, the chief of the Bank of Lithuania, said at a press conference on Tuesday.
“The size of the workforce directly influences economic growth. First, as a factor producing the GDP. Second, as bread eaters, as I call them, buyers [of goods and services],” Vasiliauskas said. “Since the independence [in 1990], we have lost about a fourth of jobs.”
Trends in the labour market also show a divergence between Lithuania's major cities and provinces. According to Vasiliauskas, unemployment was largely equal throughout the country before the 2008 economic crisis, but currently, the rate is twice as high outside the main urban centres.
Economists say there are few new jobs and the offered pay hardly exceeds unemployment benefits.
“In 2007, we had a workforce of 1.6 million, including 97,000 registered unemployed. Today, the workforce has shrunk by almost 200,000 and the number of unemployed is over 130,000,” says Edita Maslauskaitė, the acting president of the Free Market Institute. “The economy is growing and is bigger than in 2007. So we should take a look at what happened with some decisions by the government.”
Vasiliauskas, of the Bank of Lithuania, presented projections according to which the Lithuanian workforce will shrink to one million within 40 years. Every second job may be replaced by robots.
“One shouldn't assume that robotisation will kill the labour market. It won't. There will be a transformation, the transformation is already happening,” according to Vasiliauskas.
To meet the challenges, some say Lithuania should embrace immigration. Others stress the need to adapt the education system and create more requalification programmes.