Technically it is Wednesday night in Armenia…
Every political leader or self-proclaimed intellectual likes to talk about the necessity of creating jobs in Armenia. It’s a safe and popular bet.
I don’t pretend to have more wisdom than those who are able to climb the ladder of leadership, but one thing I do not believe in and that is generalizations or speaking in generalities. And one thing I do believe in is the importance of attention to detail.
Let me go on a quick tangent. As a former Diasporan I have kept some of my ‘Diasporan’ habits. After I moved to Armenia, I found a men’s clothing store that fit my taste. It was winter at the time and after choosing and trying a few sweaters, and before proceeding to the cash register, instinctively, I checked one last thing. I checked the label to see where the sweaters were made. Unlike the entire toilet tissue and hygiene aisle at the supermarket, the sweaters were not made in Turkey (please, when you read this writing, do not fixate on this sentence. It is really not the point. I am just trying to tell a story). The sweaters were all made in Bangladesh (the country, as in former East Pakistan and not the Yerevan suburb obnoxiously nicknamed after the country because it is far from the 'slick' town center).
So, why go on this tangent? Well, because when people talk about Armenia needing jobs and factories, it is really meaningless unless we talk about what kind of jobs Armenians need. There are plenty of countries around the world, including Bangladesh, with large populations that are happy to offer their citizens for low paying, minimum wage jobs and attract large manufacturing companies. The question we need to ask is, how do the citizens of these countries live and are those models we want to follow? Are we going to be more successful than Bangladesh in attracting companies that seek cheap labor?
Armenia does not need low paying, minimum wage jobs that do not enable people to escape the poverty level. It is rare that people can escape the lowest economic class if wages do not allow for savings, healthcare, proper nutrition or investments for the present and the future. Moreover, in order for the capitalist form of democracy (not my choice but it seems to be the choice made by Armenia) to grow and take root in Armenia, a sizeable and well-established middle class is a necessity. Without it, people will always be susceptible to being loyal to the mega-employers.
So, when we talk about the type of jobs we need to attract, the detail is more important than the general popular slogan. Identifying and attracting investments that help people escape poverty, enter the middle class and beyond, should be the responsibility of the government of Armenia. The pursuit of these investments should be based on a strategic plan that will identify the right type of investors. There is no shortage of visionaries in the world who have reached a level of economic success in their lives and would like to move to the next level and do good. These are the type of investors or innovators who are not in it just for the money any more, but they do need to feel safe in the environment they plan to invest in. The Armenian diaspora would be a natural place to start the systematic process of investor recruitment.
Of course, such jobs will require skills and without the institutions that train the citizens in a relatively short period of time, those investments will not come into fruition. The public or traditional four-year universities will not be able to fill this education gap with their traditional degrees. The government will need to think about out-of-the-box solutions tried and tested in other parts of the world. One-to two-year career colleges, training during or after military service as well as credible online programs may be good solutions for creating a new workforce.
With new educational initiatives, government supervised quality control and accreditation standards become critical. And last but not least, scholarships, grants and educational loans should be available for those who want to pursue an education that will help them either reinvent themselves or escape the chains of poverty.
So, please let’s not talk about jobs or attracting investors unless they are the right kind of jobs and there is a plan to train people.
Armenia should not be a destination for cheap labor.