Question: Recently there has been a decline in demand for skills of engineers. Engineering is not considered a particularly prestigious profession, and students seem to prefer law or economics when choosing their careers. Of course all professions are important but the signs of a decline are there. You often hear it said that we want to reorient our economy by embarking on a path of innovative development, but this could lead to the problem of a shortage of competent engineers.
President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: What can I say? We already have exactly this problem: a shortage of highly qualified engineers, professionals and workers who know their trade well. When I finished school and went to university, the status of an engineering degree was completely different. Out of all my schoolmates I think I was the only one who went into the department of arts. Most of them chose to do engineering in the various universities of what was Leningrad at the time: the Polytechnic Institute, the Military Mechanical Institute, the Electrical Engineering Institute. In short, those institutions that were and continue to be the pride of our engineering education. A few went into sciences. At some point in the 90s the stream was reversed…
What needs to be done to make sure that the status of the engineering profession is restored? Of course the answer is to create modern companies, like this one, and pay employees good money. That's all there is to it. I always cite something I noticed when visiting foreign countries that stuck in my mind. For example, in Germany on their business cards they write “Certified Engineer.” You can imagine the reaction to a Russian business card with “Ivan Ivanov, Engineer” on it. Someone would be sure to say: “Why did you write that? You better put whatever other thing.” But the Germans are not ashamed. On the contrary, they believe that engineering is one of the most prestigious and most popular professions. That’s what we need to get back to in our nation. Once again I want to emphasise that we can only do this by establishing modern companies such as this one. Because if there is a demand for engineering personnel, if they begin to receive salaries commensurate with their skills, it will help the status of the engineering profession in our country. You can’t do it any other way; you can’t just wave a magic wand. There are things we can do to help but the main thing is always work and wages.
Question: Our company has acquired a lot of experience in developing information systems and spatial data infrastructure. Concerning this sort of high-tech solutions, how do you see their prospects in Russian projects, particularly world-class projects, for example, at the Olympics in 2014. In your view, is there a place for these high-tech solutions in government projects?
Dmitry Medvedev: You know, I would like to respond to you with a monosyllable, and say that there is certainly a place for such projects and that everything will be fine. But as a responsible person I certainly cannot say that. We must all make enormous efforts to effectively turn our economy – a kind of rusty car, as it were – towards innovative high-tech systems of the sort your company produces.
Response: There already are such high-tech possibilities.
Dmitry Medvedev: There are, but the problem is their practical implementation. I have spoken a number of times recently on this subject and I will say again to you today: a great deal depends not only on the government’s position but also on business as a whole, because the government can only use public money to implement some innovations. But thank goodness our economy is not all government owned and that is not the way we want to go. On the contrary, it’s the private sector and private businesses that need to be developed, and thus the future of the industry depends on maintaining the closest possible contact between private business and high-tech engineering. I am not particularly optimistic about this, but I’m not pessimistic either, especially after a visit to your company. Why am I not very optimistic? Because over the past few years, we have not done much in this area. I don’t mean the rare exceptional cases like your company where the situation is of course rather different. To this point things have been moving very slowly. So I even had to create a special Presidential Commission for Modernisation and Technological Development of Russia's Economy, which is chaired by the President. I don’t think that because the Commission is chaired by the President this is a sign that the problem will be easily resolved. I would rather describe it as an SOS, a signal that nothing is happening. My task now is to get things moving, to jolt the Government Cabinet, the authorities in the regions of the Russian Federation, and of course the companies themselves into dealing with this the way they should.
Of course the main thing I’m counting on is private business, which simply must become active in this area; otherwise nothing will come of our efforts. As I have already repeatedly said, you cannot create an innovative national economy with large public companies only. RUSNANO [Russian Corporation of Nanotechnologies] alone is not able to resolve all these issues. It may give a push to some nanotechnologies though. Of course we could establish a similar sort of company in the IT, but that would be a macroeconomy level while what we need is the progress at a microeconomy level. After all, your company is a medium-sized company in terms of its operation, number of personnel and turnover. These are the sorts of companies that we need, but just 5 or 10 of them will not suffice for the whole Russia – we need thousands. That’s the problem.
Question: My question is about national technical standards and the introduction of new technologies. It's no secret that some of our current national standards and regulations are out of date, some have not yet been created, and existing standards do not meet global standards. As technology developers this situation is holding us back, as we do not see a reliable and solid basis for R&D and implementation of new technologies. I would like to know whether the government plans to set new technical standards?
Dmitry Medvedev: The issue is not just extremely important. It’s been critical for a very long time.
Why do we find ourselves in a dead end now? We had the Soviet system of standards, which was quite a mix, beginning with GOSTs [State Standards], OSTs [Industry Standards] and finally SNiPs [Construction Codes and Regulations]. Since then, we have gradually become a different sort of society with new approaches and new relationships, while standards have effectively remained the same, as the system of standards was inherited from the past. And in effect we haven’t paid any attention to this. A law on technical regulation was passed but never enforced.
I think it was just a few years ago, as a result of some decisions we took then, that we began to draft some modern technical regulations, I mean technical and technological norms and standards. The challenge now is to write all these new rules in the form of proper technical regulations.
So what’s the problem with that? The hands doing the writing are doing it badly and slowly. There are different ministries responsible for the process. Recently we have approved a dozen of these new standards, rules and technical regulations. Each is the sort of tome that also now has to be approved by the State Duma, which is not the way it used to be. Less important ones are approved at the level of the Cabinet, but this is also a very high-level affair, because you need a bunch of approvals from various ministries before things are eventually signed. That is why this is such a slow process.
Our goal is to speed things up. This also applies to your area: high-tech generally, and innovative areas, but not only those.
I regret to say that there are absolutely astonishing examples. In construction, the old SNiP regulations are still in force, and some of them can not be actually applied in modern construction. Everything has changed in construction, but they are still in force.
This is therefore a reproach to our whole government, those who are responsible for these areas and the authorities in general who must move faster. To be honest, all of these standards should have been prepared and put into effect years ago.
Now we are at a crossroads. That does not mean that nothing is being done, we are seeing signs of action. Several years ago we did not have a single law concerning technical regulation, no new standards, not a single technical rule. Now the fundamental ones are undergoing approval process, we just have to accelerate it.