With Tech Companies Booming in Cyprus, We Need to Continue to Attract Qualified Candidates Cyprus is finally recovering from the financial crisis. Let's not scare off the talented workers who have returned home.

By Katerina Andreou

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It is quite something to wake up one day to find the banks collapsing and literally go from one day to the next wondering when and if you will get access to your money. It is a memory one never loses: shops being looted day and night, queues to ATMs winding around the block and unfamiliar, cold impersonal newscasts announcing that "they" will restrict how much money -- your money -- you will be allowed day to day.

Related: Why Cyprus Is the Best Place in Europe for Digital Business

This was Cyprus in 2012 and 2013. There was indeed a lack of qualified candidates for the tech industry; there was in fact a lack of qualified candidates for most key sectors since anyone who could leave, did. After the major bank on the island, Laiki Bank, finally collapsed in 2012, the island fell victim to brain drain and much of the island's talent went abroad to popular nearby EU countries, the U.K. and Germany in particular.

Having returned to live in Cyprus 12 years ago from the U.K., I stumbled happily into a career in HR and recruitment and founded HR Innovate in 2016. The tech sector at that time, in 2006, consisted of various vacancies for hardware techs and support engineers; the pinnacle was an IT manager. There was a severe lack of qualified candidates for anything edgier. The recession of 2012 onwards further exacerbated this but just over four short years later and this statement has been turned on its head, literally in a matter of months.

To add some background, one must consider Cyprus for the unique business environment that it is. We are the last occupied country in Europe. We are a melting pot of religions and cultures crammed on to a very small, fractured island with only just over 1 million inhabitants. Our main sectors of industry have gone from tourism and potatoes to foreign exchange and investment firms in a matter of a decade. Add to this mix that we are a tax haven and attract much attention from foreign investors and companiesm and we are indeed a tumultuous mix of post-invasion business practices and high tech.

Related: How European Entrepreneurs Can Prepare for the Digital Skills Gap

This backdrop is further colored by a very slightly incestuous market, where the pre-invasion (1974 Turkish invasion and occupation of Cyprus) Cypriot culture of "favors for favors" still exists but now rubs shoulders with an explosion in tech recruitment and industry.

Yet, 2016 saw a slow but steady rise in the job market with renewed interest from international and foreign owned firms. Cyprus remains a cheaper business environment from which to operate. Many arrived from the chaos of Greece to open secondary operations. Talent started to trickle back and the island has maintained a steady flow of repatriation.

In their absence however, many of the forex firms and other fintech firms on the island employed highly experienced developers and engineers from Eastern Europe, with the Ukraine and Russia being the top favorites. Salaries for such employees were by necessity higher, such was the demand for them and restrictions set out by the island's Ministry.

As recruitment consultants, we have seen the salary scales for tech roles have risen sharply since 2016, and in 2018 we are seeing a spike in the job market that has not been observed for at least the past several years. And this time at its heart are the geek chic, young, talented software and app developers and engineers. Those who studied in the U.K. mostly, worked overseas while Cyprus hovered on the brink of financial disaster from the end of 2012 until 2015 and have returned to reap the rewards. Driven to relocate for work back then, they are back on the island having missed the sun and slower lifestyle, the kebabs and the Cypriot family comforts.

Related: Why Europe Is Facing a Digital Skills Crisis

In relation to other job sectors, the tech sector in Cyprus is much better paid with better benefits and working conditions. We no longer have a lack of qualified candidates but if we are not careful we will indeed lose our talent once more to fresher fields abroad.

Lessons learned from the banks' collapse were primarily that the island's laissez-faire approach to banking practices and the Godfather-esque, favor for favors Cypriot way of doing business will cripple us again if we are not careful. The IMF and other interested, invested parties and the Cyprus Securities and Exchange Commission have heavily regulated Cyprus's business sector and practices are being forced to standard. This is often perceived as some sort of strangulation by those within the sector but it would seem it is a necessary set of measures to save us from ourselves.

In times of crisis, we cut training and development as wages were slashed by up to 50 percent. We offered zero incentives to our young graduates to remain invested in their careers on the island. By the time recovery began to appear we had little with which to entice them in the way of employment; we were too late. Hence, it has taken almost five years since the financial crisis for us to begin to see our talented young return home.

Lesson learned, we hope ... for who will trust the banks again?

Katerina Andreou

Founder of HR Innovate

Katerina Andreou is the founder of HR Innovate, an international HR and recruitment agency based in Nicosia, Cyprus. Born to English and Cypriot parents, raised in the Middle East and Mediterranean, Andreou studied psychology and occupational psychology in the U.K.

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