IVANO FRANKIVSK – As world demand grows for Ukraine’s skilled IT workers, salaries are rising and employers are investing in quality of workplace issues.
With IT outsourcing booming, salaries of engineers here have increased 10-fold in a decade, to around $2,000 a month. Employers in IT hotbeds like this university town increasingly labor to create welcoming workplaces. A poorly handled office move can provoke employees to jump ship.
The trend is clear here in “Franyk,” a garden city of 230,000 with an intellectual tradition that includes being the birthplace of Arthur Burns, the 20th century American economist. Each year, the city’s eight universities graduate about 2,500 students in computer science, engineering or applied mathematics.
Over the last decade, two Americans, Jeff Kreuser and Emmy Gengler, have paced – and then set the pace for changes. From the Fremont, California headquarters of their company, Softjourn Inc., the Americans set up a tech outsourcing outpost n 2005 in a cramped, five worker office here. Now, about 150 employees work in a sleek, modern four-story space just a 10-minute stroll from this city’s Art Deco town hall on Market Square.
“We have worked hard to foster a positive culture in this office,” said Sergiy Fitsak, Softjourn’s managing director here. “We try to promote values of constant growth, leadership, empathy, and teamwork. I tell the staff to work to improve not just themselves, but others as well.”
Competition is as clear as slick Ukrainian language videos on YouTube which highlight happy Ukrainian IT workers – in Estonia.
Softjourn draws attention from other IT outsourcing companies in Ukraine for pioneering such common Western practices as corporate retreats and performance incentives. The company created an in-house block-chain based cryptocurrency, SJ Coins, that offers staff rewards such as snacks.
Softjourn specializes in electronic ticketing and block-chain technology, the base of such cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. The office here reports to a Softjourn office in Wroclaw, Poland, an 8-hour drive to the West.
This year, for the third time, Softjourn won a spot on The Global Outsourcing 100, the International Association of Outsourcing Professionals annual list of top firms.
With an eye to future hires and future clients, Softjourn’s office here organizes business classes and information sharing programs for budding entrepreneurs
Fitsak, who has taught courses identifies trust as the biggest obstacle blocking Ukrainian businesses from adopting Western management models.
“There is a very low level of trust between Ukrainians, but trust is necessary for success in business,” he said. “When we trust one another, we all go further.”
Open work spaces with big windows and few walls characterize the Softjourn office here (Mark Satter)
On a larger scale, Softjourn was an early partners in Teple Misto, or Warm City. This community project was launched in 2014 to humanize Ivano Frankivsk. Supported by dozens of local businesses, the project aims to develop the community through public discourse, education, and cultural initiatives.
“Teple Misto is important because it helps businesses realize that, besides clients, employees, and owners, there is a fourth party -- and that is the community,” Fitsak said. “Some Ukrainians do not understand it. But Teple Misto is helping develop Ivano Frankivsk as a city. It activates people socially and culturally.”
The efforts seem to having an impact. Currently, Nomad List, a travel website, ranks Ivano Frankivsk as Ukraine’s fourth best city to live in, after Kyiv, Lviv and Odesa.
For comments and story ideas, please contact UBJ Western Ukraine Correspondent Mark Satter at firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted July 26, 2017