Exploring Alma Career South: Revolutionizing the Balkan labour market

MojPosao is unquestionably the top job board in the local market. It has been in operation for over twenty years, and throughout that time, it has seen more successes than setbacks. Igor Žonja, the director of Alma Career region South and director of Alma Career Croatia, which manages the MojPosao portal, shared with us the journey of the small startup transforming into a prominent player in its industry and the impactful changes and innovations it introduced to the labor market.

MojPosao has been in operation for 25 years. What stands out the most in these twenty years of managing clients, employees, and the company in general?

MojPosao has established itself as the pioneer and frontrunner in the job portal industry in Croatia and the surrounding region. Since its inception in 2000, it has played a pivotal role in revolutionizing the regional labor market. MojPosao successfully emulated the global job portals of that era, but with a unique approach tailored to its specific market. This resulted in a highly successful and innovative business model. The impact of this can still be seen today, not only in Croatia but also across the entire region.

MojPosao's development can be divided into three parts. The startup phase lasted from 2000 to 2007, initiated by founder and owner Nenad Bakić, with my addition to the company's management in 2005. In 2007, we made the decision to sell the company after the initial startup phase, which marked the beginning of a new phase of restructuring. In order to prepare it for new owners, I assumed a managerial position within the company. The restructuring phase continued until 2013, followed by a period of rapid growth, despite the challenging financial climate in Croatia that lasted for six years (from 2008 to 2014). As the company expanded, a phase of development commenced and has persisted until now.

I can confidently state that I have been acquainted with the company's work since its inception. Now, after more than twenty years, I am thrilled to be a part of this incredibly positive story. It all started with a group of young individuals who may have lacked experience but had a great attitude and the potential to learn and grow.

Throughout our journey, we have successfully expanded our reach by acquiring companies in North Macedonia, Slovenia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. As a result, we are proud to announce that we are now all part of the Alma Career group. We have a strong ownership connection with Inspira Group in Serbia, and we are currently gearing up for new acquisitions. Currently, I oversee the operations in the South region of Alma Career. Additionally, I contribute to the overall efforts of the Alma Career group as a member of the management team.

With our extensive experience in the industry, we have played a significant role in connecting countless individuals with employment opportunities and forging valuable collaborations with numerous clients. We have facilitated positive transformations in the labor market and prioritized transparent employment, recognizing its significance in these regions. We also resolutely promote DEI policies and procedures, continuous learning, and a collaborative bond between employers and employees.

You have successfully navigated through two challenging economic downturns and a significant shift in ownership. What were the most difficult moments you faced, and how did you navigate through them? What insights has MojPosao gained from their experiences, and how have those experiences influenced your development as a leader?

Adapting to new circumstances can be challenging but essential. During the initial transition of ownership, we encountered a series of relentless DDoS attacks. However, through a combination of strategic measures and technical expertise, we were able to effectively overcome these challenges. We faced significant challenges when separating MojPosao from the Selectio Group, to which the portal belonged at the time.

Following the acquisition of the company by new owners, DMGT (Daily Mail and General Trust), an economic crisis unfolded, which the new owners failed to comprehend. One of the most frustrating aspects of that time was the lack of understanding from new owners regarding the prolonged duration of the crisis in Croatia, which lasted for approximately six years. Undoubtedly, the prolonged crisis in our areas can be attributed to the global crisis in Croatia, which exposed underlying internal issues stemming from the aftermath of war and the unethical privatization of state-owned enterprises. It was a challenging situation, but I managed to stay composed and make logical choices. I depended on my most trusted associates. Despite the unfortunate need to downsize our workforce, we were able to assist a significant majority of our former employees in swiftly securing new employment opportunities. During challenging periods, I made it a priority to retain top-performing employees and recognized their efforts with extra incentives. I empowered my colleagues by providing them with valuable knowledge and motivating them to continuously seek personal and professional growth. In almost 90% of cases, when someone shown ambition for personal growth and development, we successfully fulfilled their demands. It is crucial for leaders to consistently aim for the strongest team, regardless of any challenges that may arise. Given the unpredictable nature of our markets, we have developed a pay model that incorporates both fixed and variable components, taking into account the performance of the company, department, and individuals. Regardless of the challenging circumstances, we consistently managed to find opportunities for growth.

Can you tell us about some of the highlights in your business? Can you recall a time when you felt a strong sense of pride in your team's accomplishments during your role as a director?

During challenging times, our most satisfying triumphs were the ones we accomplished. During the DDoS attack, we enlisted the help of private investigators in Chicago, Sarajevo, and Tuzla. Through negotiations, I successfully bought us some time to implement a technical solution that ultimately saved our company. We could make a movie centered around those events. Through our determination and expertise, we were able to thrive even during challenging times. We have gathered job ads from the market and, thanks to the dedicated efforts of our team, effectively migrated these ads onto our platform. This practice continues to be a cornerstone of our ongoing success.

After the Croatian Employment Service disrupted our traditional job fair model, which we had invested in as a small player in the labor market, we made the strategic decision to adapt and shift the entire concept to the virtual realm. During this project, we successfully created our software, making us the pioneering and exclusive job board to implement this model using our advanced technology. Throughout our history, we have conducted numerous labor market research studies and created specialized tools for different HR field research. We are thrilled to announce that the entire Alma Career group will be utilizing front-end solutions for job platforms developed by our dedicated Zagreb development team.

Similarly, at the height of the economic crisis, we successfully organized the most prominent HR conference in the region. I can confidently say that I am extremely proud of the dedicated individuals who have been by my side for a decade or more. It is gratifying to witness their growth and progress over the years, as they evolve into outstanding employees, professionals, and, above all, remarkable individuals. For many individuals, this was their initial employment opportunity. A positive step forward was made when we brought on board a group of highly skilled individuals. Undoubtedly, I am proud of individuals who have chosen to pursue alternative professional endeavors, as they are all exceptional individuals and valuable team members.

The job market is always evolving, particularly in recent years. How does the company navigate through all the obstacles? The rise of competition, a growing number of agencies for foreign workers, and the globalization of the labor market. Do you believe job advertising portals have a future in today's world? 

In the past five years, it has become evident that international companies have had a growing impact on our job market. In the domestic market, we have yet to discover the strategies to accelerate our growth beyond our competitors. There are still some global players who haven’t yet entered our market, but that doesn't necessarily mean they won't in the future. Two decades ago, we obtained a range of social networks, but unfortunately, they were limited in scope, and we were outperformed by international competitors. More than a decade ago, we attempted to incorporate social network functionalities into our portal, but ultimately decided to abandon the idea. During that period, there was no significant competition there, but unfortunately, our engagement with users did not progress as we had hoped. In 2012, we created an 'ad aggregator,' but now I believe it's the perfect moment to expand our capabilities and incorporate all the features that major international companies offer, such as employer ratings from the labor market. This model has the potential to become a strong system that can help us navigate the challenges in our market, with a few modifications tailored to our domestic needs. In order to address the various obstacles presented by the labor market, we are exploring a form of integration that would position us as a leading global contender. By developing a fresh approach to our model, inspired by successful global players, we can enhance our local competitiveness on a global scale. Our partners in the Czech Republic have recently embraced machine learning as a crucial component of artificial intelligence, and the positive outcomes of their efforts are becoming evident to all. While we may have been a bit slow to adapt to current trends, we fully recognize the importance of taking swift action in that regard. Through the consolidation of Developer departments across our countries, we have formed a unified team known as the One Development Unit. This cohesive unit enables us to efficiently create superior solutions for all our markets.

You frequently provide insights on the local job market in Croatian media. What can you anticipate in the coming years? Will MojPosao continue to be relevant in the labor market in the future?

The job market in Croatia is highly dynamic. The latest figures confirm a positive trend in the job market, with an increase in the number of employed individuals and a decrease in unemployment. There are currently 109,092 registered unemployed people, which is 2.6% lower compared to last year. The emigration of the Croatian population has had a profound impact on the labor market. Inadequate governmental management, unethical practices, favoritism, and exorbitant costs of renting and buying apartments were factors that led to a significant number of people choosing to leave. There is currently a significant surplus of vacant apartments, so it would be prudent to consider implementing a tax compensation for that apartments.

Examining the market from the standpoint of Job Boards, there are some major international players present while others have not entered yet. However, none of them have directed their attention towards us due to our relatively small size. MojPosao remains the dominant player in the market, experiencing consistent growth since 2011, except for the setback in 2020 due to the impact of the coronavirus crisis on the overall economy. In recent years, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of employment and temporary employment agencies in the labor market. These agencies primarily focus on importing workers from the region, as well as from Asia and Africa.

I have full confidence in the stability of our company's future. Aside from the MojPosao portal, our most well-known and strongest product, we are pleased to see significant positive changes in our Pulser - employee satisfaction research product. We have recently made enhancements to our product First Choice Employer and launched a new software called Employer Brand Awareness. These tools are designed to assist our clients in making data-driven decisions in the field of HR. In addition, we have been focusing on the development of Poslovac, our second job portal in the Croatian market. By examining our range of products, we offer an excellent chance to establish a strong base for addressing the issue of employee turnover and attracting highly skilled candidates.

We are confident that we will soon streamline our tools across all markets where the Alma Career group operates. This will allow us to provide the Croatian market with a wider range of exceptional tools. One such tool is Arnold, created by our colleagues in the Czech Republic. Arnold is specifically designed to enhance Candidate Experience, Onboarding, People Development, Satisfaction, and Retention.