As part of a series of EAPM Member showcasing, we interviewed BAPM Bulgaria Chair, Detelina Smilkova.

You represent (BAPM/ Bulgaria), what is unique/typical about Bulgaria?

We have a relatively low unemployment rate, but 2021 was difficult for the labour market given the frequent restrictions, the high levels of COVID-19 cases and the changes in the business environment. Despite these difficulties, the observations of the Agency of Employment show that the market is operating in a mode of prevailing demand for skilled labour. With each passing year, the probability of employers searching for unskilled labour will decrease.

The employment rate of people aged 15 – 64 is 68.5%. The number and share of employed people in the “Services” sector continues to be the highest – 61.3% (1889.8 thousand people), followed by those employed in the “Manufacture ” sector – 30.3% (932.9 thousand people) and in the Agricultural sector – 6.2% (190.3 thousand people).

The ITO sector in Bulgaria has been experiencing dynamic development in the recent years and the country has become a globally preferred software development and IT outsourcing hub.

Bulgaria’s outsourcing sector is expected to comprise 8.9% of the country’s GDP by 2022. Outsourcing services providers in Bulgaria employed about 78,000 people at the end of 2019 – 5,000 more compared to 2018. At the end of August 2020, the number of employees in the sector reached 81,000 according to AIBEST statistics. Over the past few years, Bulgaria has established a remarkable reputation in the technology sector as its extensive expertise led to the rapid growth of the industry. This growth can be attributed to the support of highly qualified schools and education centres. Furthermore, Bulgarian companies are constantly expanding their IT departments and heavily investing in their employees. Bulgaria is also an ideal location for operations and is a development centre of many multinational technological companies.

What are main challenges for HR in Bulgaria, for the time-being and looking into the future?

The skills shortage that the market is experiencing now will grow. The challenges the labour market is facing today and for the next few years will be caused by the rapidly changing market conditions. The recently emerged energy and political crises in Europe pose a threat of shrinking the rate of investment growth and slowing down the economic growth. The restructuring of the market from the last two years continues now, as in the field of services, the dominant sector in the country, the share of the remote form of provision will increase. Thus, the need for new skills will grow especially for digital skills. The green transition and the measures included in the National Recovery and Resilience Plan will also trigger a need for new skills in the labour market.

In a few sentences, how would you describe BAPM Bulgaria?

As a live and quickly adapting organism – we grow together, learn and adapt. We share frustrations but also victories, visions, progressive ideas and experiences. The environment is friendly, the culture is supporting and this results in an organization that enhances our personal and professional development. But more importantly we are a factor in the business world in Bulgaria – respected, appreciated and referred to as an opinion leader. And yet – we manage to keep it fun – despite all the challenges, we still laugh together and celebrate our moments. Thanks God we can again do that in person!

What are your main activities?

Conferences, working groups, experience sharing cafes, seminars, webinars and many others. We are proud that we take into consideration the recommendations of our members and manage to keep their interest alive. We often invite international experts but we have recently discovered that more and more Bulgarians cover regional roles and have gained world class experience to share so we use that advantage too and invite them to inspire the others.

What are your challenges?

We are striving to pioneer and modernize the whole sector. That is why some of the major changes are our responsibility and priority. For example, the electronic labour book – BAPM has been actively working on this topic in the last few years. Working expert groups at BAPM with the participation of HR professionals with many years of experience and leading lawyers prepared reasoned proposals for changes in the regulations in connection with the introduction of an electronic labour book. A representative of BAPM participated in the Public Council of the Commission for Electronic Governance and Information Technologies of the 47th National Assembly. Luckily, we have strong business and governmental support so far and we use that to drive forward the digitalization of the entire labour documentation package.

Better regulation of remote work and clarification of ambiguities and controversial situations – this is another issue we are working on. At the beginning of the Covid crisis, a working group at BAPM developed proposals for changes in the regulatory framework to more clearly regulate the possibility of remote work. At the moment, there are still uncertainties, and considering that this type of work, will not disappear with the limitation of the pandemic, but on the contrary – will develop and impose more and more, its regulation should be precise and clear.

HR professionals are the ones who on a daily basis face situations associated with remote work, know the subject, know where the critical moments are and are the right partner to participate in the process of refining the law.

A main challenge will remain whether to keep the organization mainly professional or to widen its scope by accepting members from other fields. There are arguments for both approaches so I am sure we shall find the right balance.

What are your ambitions for the future?

The organization is eager to support Bulgaria and our business sector in the fight for talent across the region. We are working on the regulation of the so-called blue cards, work permit procedures for highly qualified personnel. We shall work on overcoming the lack of low-skilled personnel by facilitating the procedures for importing labour from other countries. Promoting and developing the expertise of the HR society is also a focus for the organization – that is why we focus on training and experience sharing events so much.

Are there any things you are especially proud of, on behalf of BAPM/ Bulgaria?

They are so many and the list keeps growing. We stayed united for more than 20 years. We keep attracting new members and our community is growing. At the same time the trust from our sponsors that we continuously receive is indicative for our achievements. Last but not least the support we get from our CEOs is crucial – sitting on the board table, being heard and seen by the top management of the country in various sectors – now this is something worth being proud of. Same applies to the government and institutional bodies and other business organizations – they see us as a respected and value adding partner and we participate actively in the decision-making process in the country.

What does the European and EAPM community mean to you?

To me personally this is the realm where I feel I can contribute the most. After decades in the business and education with several years as an advisor to two economic ministers, I feel I can best contribute to the people development sector – with knowledge, contacts, influence and of course time and energy. And it is rewarding to see the whole sector growing and being part of that.

Fun fact about yourself (BAPM/ Bulgaria?)

Well, I don’t know, perhaps the fact that I started learning an exotic for us language from the Altaic language group in my 50ties. And almost in the same time I started sport dancing and competing in tournaments but that didn’t stop me from becoming a PhD and now pursue a professorship. Perhaps the only thing I haven’t achieved yet (because it doesn’t depend on me at all!) is becoming a grandmother! But I am looking forward to that 😊

An interesting fact about Bulgaria associations life is that we have at least two sometimes three of all professional organizations and structures regardless of the fact that we are a small country. To my knowledge BAPM is the only one of its kind and that is both unique and flattering – this sense of unity and purpose is worth preserving.

Fact box 1: EAPM Member Bulgaria

Name: Web page: Linkedin page: Membership categories: Number of employees and branches: President:
Bulgarian Association for People Management individual and corporate membership 3 employees Detelina Smilkova, Chairperson

Fact box 2: Bulgaria

No. of inhabitants: Main industries: Unemployment rate: OECD page:
6.927 million Major exports include iron, steel, machinery, clothes, and refined fuels. Also shipbuilding as well as outsourcing and near-shoring destination for IT and service centres. 4.6% in some areas up to 9%