For Millennials in Russia, Tech, Engineering, and Ingenuity Are the Secret to Job Success

In a Russia fresh out of a devastating financial crisis and possibly on the verge of another, milliennials are faced with the challenge of finding steady yet personally fulfilling employment in fields that show promise of growth. 

Alexander Khodachek, a professor at St. Petersburg's Higher School of Economics and Grigory Besedin, a 23-year-old online events specialist at Veeam Software offered insight into what young people in Russia's northern metropolis can expect in terms of work, income and mobility. 

While majors in business, management, public relations, and advertising are popular, Khodachek says there is a greater need for specialists in the hard sciences and technological fields. Those trained in IT and engineering software such as AutoCAD can find jobs manufacturing, transporting, and building while the city's overabundance of management grads often end up working retail. Besedin agrees, saying that many graduates not trained in a technical specialization end up in some form of sales. Like many Russian millennials, who start working by their third year of university, Besedin sold software over the phone before landing his job at Veeam. Though he is studying public relations, he says an entry-level job in that field would yield about 15 thousand rubles a month (just under $500) while a sales job nets the same base salary plus commission.

Though a savvy and ambitious business major can find success, the job expectations of graduates in business-related fields often don't match their employment realities. There are vacancies in customer service and retail staff positions (the job listing site is filled largely with these positions), but, notes Khodachek, good service is a skill not possessed by all. Those who graduated with expectations of a glamorous businessman's lifestyle often find themselves surly and unpersonable, working in low paying retail jobs. There is growth opportunity in retail, says Besedin, albeit with a ceiling. Successful sales people can become assistant managers and managers, but, unless the business a large chain, don't have much opportunity for mobility outside their store. 

Large-scale retail construction projects, a common sight outside of St. Petersburg's historic center, are a visual confirmation of the need for building and manufacturing specialists and sales people. However, not everyone is suited for engineering and other math-heavy work. Lawyers, says Khodachek, can always find a job, especially in government and in private practices that specialize in drafting legal contracts essential for protecting the hundreds of shopping centers that have popped up around the city over the past decade. 

Those interested in creative but competitive fields such as photography, film, design, and acting face a common obstacle: too many contenders. Actors, says Khodacheck, are usually disappointed after landing only small roles in peripheral theaters, and wind up finding work that doesn't require higher education. Besedin's girlfriend Yuliya has a degree in design but works as a hostess and assistant administrator in a cafe. There, says Besedin, she earns about 20 thousand rubles a month, about 10 thousand under the city's average salary. 

Though opportunities abroad do exist, Khodachek says they're mostly for those who already speak a foreign language, studied abroad previously, or work in a multinational company with opportunities for relocation. Because most young people in St. Petersburg live with parents until they graduate or marry, Khodachek says many are too comfortable at home to leave. This is the same reason, he adds, that students who come to study in St. Petersburg from Russia's smaller cities tend to be more ambitious and productive, and better suited for international relocation. They've already left home, adapted to a new environment and learned to fend for themselves. Of the approximately 150 thousand students that enroll in one of St. Petersburg's many universities each year, only about 30 thousand are city natives. 

Like everywhere else, confidence and ambition play a major role in job success. Though most Russian students graduate high school at 17 and university at 23, Besedin took a break from studying and has a couple of years to go before he gets his degree in public relations. Still, he managed to score his job in Veeam's marketing team and earns an above-average salary. He did this, he says, by independently accruing skills and knowledge useful in today's high-tech world. His proficiency in English is a big plus for the international company, and after he surprised the interviewer by knowing what a "webinar" is, he was hired to manage online events.