Kazan is the booming capital of Russia's Republic of Tatarstan, some 700 km east of Moscow. And this year it's host to more than 1,300 young professionals from more than 60 countries - all participants in this year's WorldSkills competition.
This biennial event held at the Kazan Expo brings contestants together to compete in a wide range of skills, from floristry to electronics to bakery. WorldSkills can build careers and change lives: one winner from Abu Dhabi 2017, Caroline Söderqvist, now works with the Swedish military, servicing Black Hawk helicopters.
“I had barely held a screwdriver before, but then I just heard about this skill — aircraft maintenance — and I was intrigued by the complexity and the uniqueness of it. So I started and I loved it from the first second.”
Building a Strong Economy
It’s yet another international event taking place in Kazan after the 2013 Summer Universiade and last year’s FIFA World Cup matches. Tatarstan says they bring new economic opportunities for its population of almost 4 million people.
Rustam Minnikhanov is President of the Republic of Tatarstan:
“These events are shaping people: we’re getting new volunteers, new specialists, languages need to be learned, the hotels and the transport infrastructure prepared.”
The city of Kazan, with its multicultural history going back more than a thousand years, was largely transformed by the introduction of these international events: with better infrastructure, improved transport links and the spacious new Expo centre purpose built for WorldSkills.
“To have a strong economy, we need a highly professional workforce, we need investors," President Minnikhanov explains. "So we take a comprehensive approach, developing the infrastructure that brings in investors, be they foreign or Russian.”
Popular among tourists, Tatarstan is also one of Russia’s top regions in attracting foreign capital — with Turkey, Germany and France investing the most. With a dedicated government agency to facilitate foreign investment, Tatarstan aims to boost its knowledge economy and high-tech sector.
Taliya Minullina is Chief Executive of the Tatarstan Investment Development Agency:
“Tatarstan has a very good industrial base — petrochemicals, engineering, a very serious agriculture sector, energy — and today any sector in the economy is inextricably linked with the processes of digitalisation. Therefore, information technology is, of course, an area in which there should be a lot of investment today.”
Created four years ago as a satellite development outside Kazan, Innopolis City now has more than 3,500 permanent residents, a special economic zone and the first Russian university focusing on advanced computer science and robotics.
“Here we provide a unique opportunity for young professionals to study, live, work, relax, raise children — all in one place," says Innopolis mayor, Ruslan Shagaleev.
Innopolis University aims to educate a generation of specialists who will bring Russian IT and robotics to the level of global competition. It boasts more than 80 faculty members, from from 22 countries — among them professor Bertrand Meyer, a leading expert in software engineering from ETH Zurich.
"Five years ago, no one had ever heard of Innopolis, so it’s a gamble, in a way. But the working conditions are excellent, the students have scholarships, they have a high-level faculty with people coming from everywhere - from Europe, Asia, North America."
Russian and foreign students can apply for scholarships covering tuition and accommodation. The courses are taught in English, with an emphasis on practical applications.
“The staff of the university is working closely with industry representatives to really nail the important skillset that each and every student has to have,” says Dragos Strugar, who's studying computer science at Innopolis University.
The Technopark, which can be reach by self-driving taxi, hosts 99 companies — from IT giants to former student startups. French multinational Schneider Electric is working on IT security and software solutions: here in Tatarstan the company stays close to some of its key clients, partners and academic centres that provide top-grade staff.
“Let's not forget that here we are in the special economic zone, says Albert Mardanov, Director of Schneider Electric Center of Innovations. "There are certain tax breaks, which is important for us, and there is a young, very ambitious team that provides all kinds of support, resolves all the issues that we might have very quickly.”
With its modern infrastructure and an attractive investment climate, Tatarstan aims to bring skills, knowledge and business opportunities together.