WITHIN 7 to 10 years, when the plants of Slovakia's three carmakers reach peak production, it is estimated that the number of people working in the automotive industry will jump from last year's 65,000 to more than 100,000.
While this may be good news for the country's unemployment rate, which is the second highest in the EU, it will also put a premium on talent, as employers scramble for skilled and educated workers in a shrinking supply pool.
In fact, Volkswagen Slovakia, PSA Peugeot Citroen, and KIA Motors Slovakia are already feeling the pinch, saying that demand for car industry employees has made it tougher to find quality candidates especially for white-collar positions. Concern is increasing that Slovakia may simply not be able to supply as many qualified employees as the car industry will need.
Miroslav Poliak, a partner with Amrop Jenewein Group (AJG), emphasized that the situation is ominous especially in the case of engineers, technicians, quality managers, logistics posts, supply buyers, and maintenance staff. Car firms are looking for candidates with job experience and at least one foreign language.
"In terms of the lowest-skilled jobs and the most numerous positions where the qualifications requirements are not that high, the situation is different. The labour market is able to cover these positions especially in regions with high unemployment," Poliak said.
Labour pools in high-unemployment southern and eastern Slovakia can still cover all demand for blue-collar positions, as can central and northern Slovakia, Poliak said. Even in wealthy western Slovakia, where the majority of foreign investors have settled since 1993, unskilled labour is not a problem to find.
Volkswagen Slovakia has been operating in Slovakia since 1993. The company is one of the country's largest employers, with 8,000 staff, and it has already begun to feel the impact of competition for labour.
VW Slovakia spokesperson Silvia Nosálová told The Slovak Spectator that "Volkswagen is currently feeling labour market shifts connected with the entry of new carmakers to Slovakia, mainly in terms of the shortage of professionals such as electronic and technical engineers. In the past, the situation was easier".
She did not rule out that Volkswagen Slovakia might recruit employees from abroad if it was unable to fill certain positions in Slovakia.
After completing its first factory, PSA Peugeot Citroen should next year employ about 3,500 people. However, the French carmaker announced in December 2005 that it wanted to extend its activities in Slovakia and would build another plant with an additional 1,800 employees by 2010. As of February 2006, PSA had received 40,000 job applications.
Barbora Šípošová, director of human resources for PSA Peugeot Citroen, said that staffing an entire factory includes a large number of professions and job profiles. She said that PSA Peugeot Citroen had not noticed a shortage of suitable candidates for some jobs, although she said "it's true that filling some positions takes a bit longer."
KIA Motors Slovakia plans to finish its recruitment drive in 2009, by which time it should employ around 3,000 people. The Korean carmaker has so far received 15,000 job applications.
"The machinery industry has a long and strong tradition in Slovakia. Despite that we feel a general shortage of qualified job candidates," said KIA spokesman Dušan Dvořák.
KIA Motors Slovakia says it lacks suitable candidates mainly for IT positions, but also quality control, car component development and purchasing.
According to Poliak of AJG, Slovakia needs to improve its education system in order to increase its reserves of qualified labour.
"We need to train labour so that qualified labour becomes a significant added value for investors which they don't want to exchange for lower [labour] costs in other countries," Poliak said.
In cooperation with the automotive industry investors, Slovak technical schools and universities are gradually putting greater emphasis on the needs of actual producers and their future employers.
These changes, along with the launch of competitive research centres by universities, should ensure that Slovakia has enough specialists to meet the needs of current and future investors.
Volkswagen Slovakia cooperates with secondary schools as well as with four technical universities and one university of economics. The German company also has an own centre of practical tuition which each year trains 20 students as electronics mechanics.
In May 2005, PSA Peugeot Citroen signed an agreement on education with the French and Slovak Education Ministries and regional governments in Bratislava and Trnava. The aim is to meet the needs of the car industry through the Slovak education system.
Based on the agreement, the French carmaker trains Slovak lecturers, which pass on their knowledge to future PSA workers and other Slovak students. The project includes cooperation with four schools in Bratislava and Trnava. PSA's overall investments into the Slovak education system should come to €3.3 million.
KIA Motors cooperates on training mainly with secondary schools. Its cooperation with universities is so far focused on recruitment. However, in future the carmaker wants to help create syllabuses and support students in writing theses.