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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

C Students and Dilettantes

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A salesperson in a computer store couldn't help me configure my new cell phone. Since this isn't my forte and I was too lazy to figure it out myself, I left the phone with the store whizzes. When I came back in three hours I found them clustered in a group in the center of the sales room, ignoring the other customers and discussing how to set GPRS on that phone model. They didn't know how to do it. No one had trained them to deal with the electronics they were selling.

The nice young woman in the travel agency where I bought airline tickets didn't tell me that the sign for the credit card on the door meant that they would take the card -- and an additional 2 percent of the ticket cost. Nor did she mention the day before when I was in the office that someone had to go out for my tickets and I'd have to wait a half hour. And of course she didn't think to write down the time of arrival and departure terminal number. To my astonished exclamation, "But it's done as a matter of course!" she replied that she did it only if the traveler requested. It took no more than 30 seconds. Why not do it right away?

Even in Moscow's most expensive boutiques the salesperson will not always come up to you with the standard question, "How can I help you?" Here the saleswomen may look like top models, but they'll chat with each other and not pay any attention to the customers.

In appliance stores the salespeople can't explain the advantages and drawbacks of various models and brands. Barmen in Sheremetyevo International Airport often can't speak a word of English -- and the same for the staff in almost all Moscow's hotels and restaurants. This list could be continued endlessly.

All these people have one thing in common: They're dilettantes.

This dilettantism is a disaster for the Russian economy. Top and middle-level managers tell you this as soon as you raise the subject. Every editor-in-chief screams about how poorly qualified most new employees are. Although they can't even write correctly in Russian (not to mention all the other necessary skills and knowledge), they start salary negotiations with figures that may be realistic in Europe or the United States, but not here. They get hired, because there's no one else, and the mass media are growing by leaps and bounds.

The retail sector, which is growing as rapidly, is also reeling from unqualified employees. Some stores try to train their staff, but it's virtually useless, since the staff knows they can get another job if their present one doesn't suit. It's the same story in the restaurant business and in the service sphere in general.

At this point someone will say: But the provinces are full of people eager to come to the city to earn money. That's utter nonsense! They won't come! They're living in squalor and don't want to do anything, even for money. A major automotive company wanted to build an assembly plant in the Pskov region. The managers went to the area and were horrified: There simply wasn't anyone to work at the factory. Most of the men were drunks. This is typical for many Russian regions.

Company directors complain that there are no qualified bookkeepers, lawyers or personnel directors. Fairy tales about "computer geniuses" who could fill two cities of Bangalore are just that -- fairy tales. These people may be talented, but they are self-taught and usually never had a systematic professional education. The country's education system fell apart -- in every sphere.

Have you ever heard of training for cashiers, salespeople, electricians, travel agents, train conductors, secretaries, plumbers or other low-level white- and blue-collar workers? Typically there's no competition for them; friends of friends or relatives without special training get hired.

This dilettantism and disregard for standards of service has become the norm in the Russian economy.

If you think this is only happening at the low end of the business ladder, you're wrong; it's the exact same thing at the top. Professional training and experience is nothing compared to being from St. Petersburg or political loyalty.

As a result, decisions are ill-considered and sometimes unwise; half-baked laws that don't anticipate the consequences are drafted; and ill-conceived systems are implemented on a nationwide scale.

Sometimes it seems that the country is being run at every level by C students.

Georgy Bovt is the editor of Profil.