Supply of specialists feared shrinking

A TRADITION of producing quality engineers and technical professionals has long been a source of pride for Slovakia, but the growth of foreign direct investment has exposed holes in the labour market that need to be filled.

Technical professionals are once again in demand.
photo: ČTK

A TRADITION of producing quality engineers and technical professionals has long been a source of pride for Slovakia, but the growth of foreign direct investment has exposed holes in the labour market that need to be filled.

Slovakia was once stuffed with heavy industry firms, many of which went bankrupt after the fall of Communism, causing technical professions to lose much of their allure. As a result, education in the vocational technical schools, and even universities, has become outdated and unable to match the needs of modern foreign industry.

After 2000, the country's business environment improved and the first large investments from car manufacturers, among other technical industries, started coming in, which increased the demand for qualified white and blue collar workers.

However, the effects of the past remain, and the demand for good engineers and technicians still surpasses the supply.

HR firms emphasise a restructuring of the education system is urgently needed for two reasons: to supply the necessary labour and decrease unemployment.

"Slovakia used to be proud of having a solid base of technicians and electro-technical, mechanical engineers and civil engineers. Nowadays, there is a serious lack of such people, and investors (mainly automotive, electro-technical) are finding it difficult to recruit, for example, process engineers, line managers for production, and specialists in general," said Mariana Turanová, managing consultant of Target SK.

Therefore, investors have begun taking over the role of bringing the needed knowledge to students.

"The corporate sector can wield influence by communicating its needs to schools," Turanová added. "It can also support the schools, involve students in the production process during studies and motivate them to join a company after graduating."

Dana Blechová, a senior consultant at Iventa Slovakia Management Consulting, thinks there is always room for more cooperation between the corporate and state sector, and the inclusion of the academic sector.

The fact that investors have had to take over certain educational activities could hurt the investment atmosphere. Miroslav Poliak, partner of Amrop Jenewein Group (AJG) says that "not all investors interested in Slovakia are as big as Volkswagen, Kia or PSA, and the lack of qualified labour is not only the question of foreign companies but of the Slovak ones as well. Therefore, it should be in the public interest for the education system to produce the relevant qualified labour."

One risk is that investors focused on operations where higher added value is needed will pass over Slovakia and those already here will just leave when production costs increase.

Igor Šulík, partner of AJG, believes the state should only set the framework and priorities and leave the rest to be solved by the market.

"I see a lot of opportunity for cooperation between the corporate sector and schools, in particular, in determining what professions are most needed in the market and adjusting the curriculum at schools to reflect the demand of the market," Šulík explained.

Almost all the political parties in Slovakia have declared their intention to contribute to building a knowledge-based economy, a plan that aims to remedy such problems as the country's lack of qualified labour.

Šulík of AJG again pointed out that reforming the secondary and university education system is one of the most important steps toward developing a knowledge-based economy. It will also be necessary to review educational content and re-evaluate the methods of financing educational institutions, he said.

Blechová of Iventa also emphasised the need to increase the quality of education, especially at the university level. "It needs to be more competitive and support research and science more intensively."

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