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Communications of the ACM

The IT Staffing Situation in Belarus


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The main factors in the labor market in the IT sector in Belarus involve salaries, training, and the marketplace. IT salaries, as in other sectors of the Belarus economy, are low (the mean national wage in 2001 should reach $100 U.S. per month) and are determined by the general condition of the republic's economy. There is also the challenge of training specialists in the field and maintaining a high level of quality on a global scale. And we find the market increasingly difficult for the development of information and telecommunication products at a level relative to other global markets.

Domestic and foreign analysts unanimously value the software market as the most dynamic sector of the economy in Belarus, closer than other industries to reaching an international level. Software production in the Belarussian economy attracts attention from the IT industry worldwide, but it is only one aspect of the market. The republic is primarily of interest to foreign corporations (computer and software producers) as a market for their own products. Thus, the worldwide IT community is interested in cooperation with Belarus.

In the international arena Belarus is well known for its highly skilled and inexpensive programming work force. Leading IT corporations establish direct contacts with Belarussian universities. Corporations typically offer some assistance to educational institutions in return for selecting the best senior students. These students are then invited to various European companies to complete their master's projects with subsequent prospect of employment.

In a practice similar to the North American National Hockey League (NHL), young people (1920 years old), who have not yet been educated as IT specialists but have high potential, are drafted. According to the press, the number of vacancies for programmers in the U.S. has reached 400,000, while European countries (Germany, Great Britain, and others) have announced programs in the last year to allow them to recruit some tens of thousands of programmers annually from countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States.

In a country with an overall low GDP, the salaries for skilled Belarussian programmers are not at all competitive with the world market. The obvious result is that Belarussian industry sets itself up to supply the foreign market. The Belarussian programming work force will therefore be used increasingly to supplement the productivity of foreign corporations. Belarussian programmers implement either complete systems when commissioned by Western centers, or single components under contract. As a rule, these activities are undertaken outside the state system of registrationa provision of employment and taxationand independent of employment laws of the Western countries. For this reason, the activity has been dubbed "offshore programming." The growth rate of offshore programming activity in Belarus is difficult to calculate. My personal estimate is that the volume of such programming grows 50% or more annually in Belarus.

Since the late 1980s some common immigration routes have developed for Belarussian programmers wishing to relocate into IT companies in Western Europe, Israel, Australia, Canada, and the U.S. The examples here come from over a decade of substantial experience in scientific and educational organizations and depict the fates of many of my colleagues:

  • Undertaking some industry-based activity or training during a Ph.D., or scientific activity following Ph.D., on placement in a Western scientific center (or IT company). This activity then led to an offer to continue in the placement firm or return to the company. This may sometimes be followed by subsequent invitations to former Belarussian colleagues.
  • Collaborative activity in Belarus either for a Belarussian software company (or within academia) leading to successful software implementation to complete the contract or collaboration. An invitation for a permanent job is subsequently issued by the foreign collaborator.
  • Post-graduate education involving detailed training in a foreign language, and obtaining experience with particular IT products and advanced methods of programming. In many cases, there is interruption of the post-graduate training before completion in order to move to a specialist job in a Belarussian company. After 12 years, the employee is recruited to a job in another country.
  • Since the mid-1990s, the most popular route for programmers was searching the Internet for vacancies abroad. This typically includes passing online tests of experience, with a subsequent move abroad through recruitment agencies or via direct negotiation with the ultimate employer. Sometimes preliminary employment in the form of offshore programming may be offered in Belarus.
  • Belarus suffered considerable staff losses as a result of mass emigration by the Jewish population since the late 1980s, mainly to Israel and the U.S.

Leading IT corporations establish direct contacts with Belarussian universities. Corporations typically offer some assistance to educational institutions in return for selecting the best senior students.


These basic scenarios attract young people in particular, usually between the ages of 22 and 35. This trend results in an aging profile of the computer staff in Belarussian firms and educational institutions. This practice has an obvious negative effect on both replenishment of the specialist work force and on the internal needs of Belarussian firms working on IT systems for organizations in the Republic of Belarus.

Realizing the criticality of the situation, where a considerable proportion of Belarus's scant training resources produces IT specialists for employment abroad, the country has attempted to support the domestic producers of IT systems and software via legislation. This initiative envisions the creation of tax and other financial privileges targeted at current organizations, whether state or commercial, that already have considerable experience in other areas, into designing for the software market.

The initiative was created to achieve several goals, including boosting domestic IT companies by encouraging contracts from Western companies, and alleviating the obstacles, including financial pressure, that drive the transfer of know-how abroad (while enabling a reasonable combination of Western and internal state contracts or bookings). It is also hoped this plan will support programmers by allowing more competitive salaries to undermine the cash payment black market, and allow the government and domestic organizations (for example, the social sectors like the Ministries of Public Health and Education) to allow contracts.

If successful, this approach should slow the outflow of highly qualified IT specialists abroad from both the public and private sector. Moreover, it should sustain the country's position in the IT world market. The objectives are to have firms with in-depth experience and a solid work force of young talented programmers and supported by a high-quality university education.

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Author

Uladzimir Anishchanko (ANISHCH@newman.bas-net.by) is head of the Y2K-Conversion Methodology Working Group of the State Committee on Science and Technology of the Republic of Belarus, and Deputy General Director of the Scientific Research Association "Cybernetics" of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus.


©2001 ACM  0002-0782/01/0700  $5.00

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