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Interview with Visiting Faculty- 17


As a CEI visiting faculty, Professor Olga Kupets (Assistant professor at the Kyiv School of Economics) visited the Institute of Economic Research for 6 months, from October 3, 2022, to April 2, 2023. Her research interests include empirical labor economics, development economics, transition economics, and policy analysis. We interviewed her about how she became an economist, how she views the youth labor market in Ukraine, and the message she would like to convey to young researchers.

 Road to becoming an economist

Q. How did you decide to become an economist? Is there any person or any event which influenced you to become an economist?

It's a long story because it started when I was born. It was like my innate inclination to be an economist or a banker because I liked counting money in my money box. I was counting all the money I received as gifts from my grandmother and my parents. But suddenly, because of the monetary reforms in the Soviet Union and the independence of Ukraine, these coins and banknotes transformed into metal and paper. Besides, my parents lost all their savings in the bank, and we didn't have money for a long period. And that is why I wanted to become an economist to study why it happened. 

But my first degree is in mathematics and computer science because I lived in a town where there were no economics departments. I really wanted to go somewhere to study, but when I graduated from high school, I was only 16 years old and Ukraine was in a very difficult economic situation. For example, inflation in Ukraine was more than 10,000% at that time while it is less than 2% in Japan now! My parents didn't allow me to go anywhere. So, I chose the physics and mathematics department at the Cherkasy State University.

The person who influenced me came from Kyiv to my hometown when I was studying in the fourth year of my 5-year program. His name is Professor Oleksandr Yastremskii. He promoted the master's program in economics, which was founded by Western partners (Economics Education and Research Consortium), so it was as if having a Western-style economics program in Ukraine. After graduation from the mathematics department, I went to Kyiv and started a master's program in economics. I overcame many barriers and obstacles and became an economist with a mathematics background. I find it very helpful for young researchers who would like to be good economists to have knowledge of mathematics and computer science.

Q. So you had to study mathematics first and then became an economist.

Yes. At that time, I was forced to choose mathematics because the option was very limited. I like mathematics, but I didn't dream about being a mathematician. 

 Research field

Q. Could you please explain your research field in words that non-academics can understand?

It is very easy in my case. My research field will sound familiar to people who are of working age. I am studying job creation and job destruction using data that I took here (Professor Ichiro Iwasaki helped me a lot). Also, I study gender issues in the labor market, as well as youth unemployment and other challenges that young people face in the labor market. I am also studying the issue of the aging population and its impact on the labor market. I study mainly labor market issues, but also adjacent areas, such as poverty, inequality, and migration. As you see, all of these issues are related to people: how much they earn, whether there is any inequality, and whether there are barriers to access to well-paying jobs. And, how to help people find jobs through all these issues.

Q. The common theme is labor, but it goes out to many different areas.

Yes, many areas. And I forgot to mention one more area of my labor economics study: skills.

Q. In Japan, we see newspaper articles about "skills for work" almost every day. Is the word "reskilling" also used (to mean learning new skills for a different job) in English? It's a very hot topic in Japan right now.

Yes! And that's why we discuss and study the demand for skills, supply for skills, their mismatch, what workers must do, how employers can adjust, and so on. All these issues are very important and hot especially because of digitalization, automation, and artificial intelligence (AI).


Q. In Japan, it's said that the demand for digitalization is growing rapidly. So, companies are trying to train employees in IT-related skills. Is that the same in Ukraine? I hear that the IT sector is quite developed in Ukraine.

Oh, yes. The IT sector has been a driver of our economy, and it was one of the few sectors that survived COVID. It had positive dynamics despite COVID-related restrictions and all the disruption of supply chains. And before the attacks of russians on electricity facilities in Ukraine in October 2022, the IT sector was doing relatively well even under the war circumstances. Yet, many IT companies relocated their business and staff to Romania, Bulgaria, and Poland.

In terms of the labor force, many young people in Ukraine are well trained since we, as one of the post-Soviet Union countries, traditionally have quite developed physics and mathematics education. People with such good backgrounds have a strong motivation to go to the IT sector because of a very high salary, which is much higher than the average salary in Ukraine. In fact, it is an international salary determined in the international labor market. However, I see some problems in this, because almost all the students in good schools want to go to the IT sector! And who will be doctors, teachers or researchers? 

Q. But you cannot force young people to go to certain fields.

No, we can't. My friends told me that some young people were trained to be chemists or biologists, but they couldn't find satisfying jobs and got retrained in IT. Many people even from the area of humanities decide to switch to the IT sector. In our school, many students who received master's in economics go to the IT sector. As I mentioned before, it is because of the very strong monetary incentive. When the demand is much higher than the supply, employers are ready to pay very high salaries.

 Working at Hitotsubashi

Q. How did you find living in Kunitachi or Japan? Is there any memorable moment or episode?

I adore Japan. But if we talk about Kunitachi, for me it is like a village, because there are no large shops or entertainment centers. So, in fact, Kunitachi is a place to live, sleep, eat, and work. It is good for research since it is like a distraction-free environment. But sometimes it is boring. 

I remember when I was here six and a half years ago, it was from mid-summer to mid-autumn which is the most awful period with lots of typhoons and rain. Everything was grey. So, it was very depressing. But I am visiting from autumn to spring this time, which is just the perfect season. I would advise researchers that starting in October would be the best!

 Message for the young researchers

Q. Could you please give a message to students and young scholars in your research field?

I guess this could be a message to young researchers in any field. Currently, because of digitalization and artificial intelligence, there are a lot of challenges. They emerge not only for ordinary workers who can be substituted with artificial intelligence or robots, but even for researchers, especially now with a lot of talks about Chat GPT.

This is a huge challenge compared to when I entered the job market more than 20 years ago. At that time, we saw only human competitors, but now you need to compete with artificial intelligence. So, my message is to be ready to study and develop your skills daily. Developed communication and interpersonal skills, fluency in foreign languages, critical thinking and creativity, digital skills would be important. If a person doesn't have these and other skills, he or she can be substituted immediately.


Q. This could be said for people in various fields.

When we talk about researchers, it includes teachers and professors. Artificial intelligence poses more threat to education, rather than research, because to do research you still need to have various skills. But for education, young professors who cannot be very creative may be substituted by artificial intelligence.

And I see that young students now are not ready to study hard. I have teaching experience from 2001, so it has already been 22 years, and I see a trend among young generations to say "Why should I do this? If it is not interesting or useful, I will not study." Artificial intelligence, I think, can do this fun part even faster than some human professors. Because you just tell "Okay, prepare some funny presentation about this topic." and the artificial intelligence will just put some pictures and infographics!

Q. What do you think of the reason why the students are not studying harder?

For the students in Ukraine, my explanation is that our generation lived through many challenges because we lived in the transitional economic period. Our parents didn't have money. We didn't have possibilities for our development so we struggled every day. And therefore, when we started something, we didn't ask why. Professors told us to study, and we did. Mothers and fathers told us to do something and we did. We didn't have any other option, and we were blocked in the Soviet Union. So, my theory is that in Ukraine, due to the recent high economic development, young people do not need to care about earning money as we did. 

On the other hand, I talked to my colleagues in Europe and the U.S., who told me about the same problems. So, I guess this is not only an issue related to the transition period in Ukraine, but this generation "Z" that was born in this new technological era, and that they are used to all these kinds of entertainment from very early childhood. They don't want to read books, so they just watch videos. They don't want to read the textbooks. They prefer to have some slide presentations. They don't want to go deeper because they don't feel that they need it.

I guess this is because of these new technologies. Sometimes they really help people but, in this case, I think they help people to degrade, just forget about intelligence, even grammar. I discussed this with our colleagues from the World Bank. Students in secondary school or even elementary school would say "Why do we need grammar classes? You just write and it will be automatically corrected." But I tell my students, "If you don't know grammar, you will write with many mistakes, and is it Okay? For me, no. Especially now that we don't have enough electricity in Ukraine, and you need to write where you don't have artificial intelligence. You just have your own intelligence." 

Q. It seems like it is becoming a worldwide problem.

Yes, sometimes it is threatening especially for the labor market. We know that the aging problem is very serious in Japan as it is also the case in Ukraine. The number of young people is getting smaller, and the quality is getting worse. They have narrow interests and cannot switch. As a labor economist, I wonder who will pay pensions for us, for example, because these young people are not interested in hard work. A lot of studies show that young people tend to like the COVID time because they can work at home or work part-time. And again, they enjoy their spare time with entertainment, often with computer games just like my son. 

Q. We must keep on studying!

Yes, we must think of a way to adjust to new challenges!


Thank you, Prof. Olga Kupets, for sharing your precious time for this interview. We came to recognize that many of the issues you study are closely related to problems not only faced in Ukraine but also in Japan. We will always remember how important it is to study daily to prepare for the new challenges. It was truly our pleasure to have you here for the 6 months and we wish you all the best in your continuing research!

Interviewer: Eriko Yoshida and Nana Yamamoto, CEI (recorded March 1, 2023)