By Larry Biehl
Addressing three critical Bulgarian “pain-points”: 1) the need for social services, 2) the need for more attractive jobs and 3) the need for more qualified employees
A historical perspective
Larry Biehl (Founder of BEC) talked about business supporting the cost of certain types of education in Bulgaria with visiting Sofia University Professor Kamen Spassov here to attend the University Innovation Fellows’ Faculty Training class at Stanford.
Kamen said the Soviets used to fund all education needed, but, after leaving, it was left to the Bulgarian people. In response to the perceived need going unmet, businesses did financially support educational initiatives that could lead to jobs for the students attending the supported initiatives. Scholarships, private academies sprung up throughout Bulgaria.
As a result, Bulgaria ended up with too many employable students, many of which had to leave Bulgaria now to find jobs; and funding of educational initiatives by business stopped. Bringing us to today when too few qualified, employable students are being produced. Plus, the skills needed in today’s world are requiring skills – like “soft skills” – not being taught at all! Businesses whose markets remain within Bulgaria, are not motivated to support education to produce new employees. They are satisfied to not grow, but to continue acting as they have, paying the same amount for labor, selling the same products and services to traditional customers, in essence, doing the least possible to sustain their operations. No entrepreneurial spirit whatsoever.
Kamen feels that “cross border” businesses should be BEC’s market to attract support. The competitive environment outside Bulgaria demands them to grow and attract qualified employees. For them, Bulgaria is back to where it was when the Soviets left: in need of employable people to fulfill businesses’ labor requirements so they can grow and remain competitive with the rest of the world.
Furthermore, Bulgarian businesses are unaccustomed to using “support of social causes” as a way to differentiate their business in the eyes of customers and replace traditional advertising methods. Probably, this is the result of the feeling – instilled during the Soviet occupation – that social service is the government’s responsibility, not an opportunity for “social entrepreneurs” to create sustainable companies to deliver necessary product and services to those citizens in need.
Silicon Valley model
Competition for qualified employees in Silicon Valley is stiff. Unemployment is at all time lows (2.3%). How, then, do those companies needing employees attract them? Answer: they focus on the work “experience” they provide rather than just the salary they pay.
Today’s young people looking for jobs in SV are concerned about company values and the work environment. Fifty of the largest companies in the San Francisco Bay Area require their employees to take “time off” from their corporate jobs to volunteer their time helping address social needs within their community – 2hrs/week, 1 day/month, etc.. Companies will even provide financial support for the NGOs where their employees donate their time.
In short, smart companies in competitive environment must offer potential employees something more than “just a job”.
If Bulgaria is in need of attracting employees from a smaller and smaller pool, they must offer them 1) an experience that satisfies more than their need for a salary and 2) makes them more inclined to stay in Bulgaria. Furthermore, companies must compete for the best employees by visibly supporting educational programs that enlarge the labor pool for qualified employees for tomorrow’s jobs, not today’s. By actively participating in the education of these potential employees they not only breed future employees, but clients for their products and services by earning the appreciation, respect and loyalty of that future employee’s family.
Where BEC comes in…
BEC’s experience generating innovation and entrepreneurship education programs in Bulgaria at the high school, university and working adult level qualifies BEC to be a resource to help Bulgarian “cross-border” businesses 1) design in-house volunteering programs which promote the companies’ values and purpose, 2) create fulfilling volunteer programs with well established NGOs supporting causes that resonate with their relative communities (such as elder care, services needed by those with physical and mental disabilities, and – not surprisingly, dogs!) and 3) graduate more qualified potential employees from educational programs aimed at developing skills necessary for companies aiming to be successful in the future.
By having access to SV companies who have developed volunteer programs and experienced their success, not just in being able to attract and retain valuable employees but on their “bottom line”, as well, BEC is uniquely qualified to fulfill its mission to create a resource “bridge” between Bulgaria and Silicon Valley with its purpose being to raise Bulgaria from the bottom of the EU – economically – through entrepreneurship education, mentoring and funding.
BEC has already begun a corporate volunteering “pilot” program for employees of a Sofia hotel and are already witnessing the positive effects on the community and the hotel’s employees. The staff – all of whom participate with volunteering projects of their own choice – are feeling proud of their accomplishments in being able to act out their values and have become more of a “family” working together on the job in a more responsible and respectful manner. Good results, indeed!
BEC can provide the way to address the three pain-points (more social services. more attractive jobs, and more qualified employees) so that companies become more involved in solving problems within the community and for themselves.