Construction sites, factory assembly lines and warehouses across central Europe are scrambling to fill vacancies after tens of thousands of Ukrainian men left their blue-collar jobs to return home after Russia invaded their country.
Ukrainian workers had flocked to central Europe in the past decade – drawn by higher wages and aided by an easing of visa requirements – filling jobs that weren’t highly paid enough for local workers in construction, the automotive sector, and heavy industry.
Many of these workers have returned home to help the war effort since Russia invaded on 24 February, abruptly worsening labour shortages in some of Europe’s most industrialized economies.
Before the Russian invasion, Ukrainians were the largest group of foreign workers in central Europe. The Czech Republic hosted Ukrainian workforce of around 200,000 respectively, according to industry trade groups.
“The loss of Ukrainian workers has deepened the problems companies are facing,” Radek Spicar, vice president of the Czech Federation of Industry, told Reuters. “Companies say they can’t cover all the demand from business partners: they deliver with delays and pay penalties.”
Before the Russian invasion, Germany-based recruiter Hofmann Personal had more than 1,000 Ukrainian candidates due to arrive in the Czech Republic between March and June, mostly for jobs in the automotive, logistics and manufacturing sectors.
The companies expecting those workers are now struggling to fill those openings, said Gabriela Hrbackova, Hofmann Personal’s managing director in the Czech Republic. The country has the lowest unemployment rate in the European Union of just 3.1%.
“If this cannot be resolved quickly and opportunities for recruiting foreign candidates are not strengthened, it will have major implications, especially for manufacturing companies,” Hrbackova told Reuters.
“Companies lack hundreds of employees for positions of production operators, qualified manufacturing positions such as welders, (machine) operators, metal workers and forklift drivers.”
Executives and trade groups said the impact of Ukrainian workers’ departures is being felt particularly hard in emerging Europe because the region is less automated than more developed European Union economies, such as regional heavyweight Germany.
Petr Skocek, director of German automotive supplier Brose Group’s facility in the Czech city Ostrava, near the Polish border, said the past inflow of Ukrainian workers had been a boon to businesses because of their qualifications, work ethic and similar culture.
“This channel has now stopped,” he said.
The staffing issue comes on top of supply chain problems for manufacturers, who face soaring costs for energy and materials due to the war and lingering disruptions to supply chains from the pandemic.
The producer price index – a measure of inflation for businesses – hit nearly 28.5% in June in the Czech Republic.
Some companies are bumping up salary offers to attract replacement workers, seeking to lure local workers and stave off competing firms for the limited number of Ukrainians.