Slovakia at the end of June saw hundreds of celebrations like this one in Nitra, with university students painting their names on nearby pavements and gearing up to make their mark on the job market.
photo: Ján Svrček
The Slovak Education Ministry expects around 20,000 students to graduate from Slovak universities this year. Those graduates face a daunting task: shedding the cap and gown and going to work in a country in which unemployment hovers at 18%; creating a career in the midst of economic uncertainty. Nevertheless, the majority of the graduates who spoke to The Slovak Spectator last week were facing the future with confidence.
"I feel ready to compete [on the labour market]," said management studies major Jaro Klč, who has already found a job at a consulting firm. "I've also done Internet work. Slovakia's economic situation has never limited my plans."
Klč's optimism is not unfounded. University graduates have had an easier time than any other group finding work on the labour market, Slovak Labour Office statistics show. The Class of 2000 had a 83% success rate in their first year in gaining employment, 23% greater than that of trade-school graduates. And the percentage of registered unemployed among recent graduates dropped by 1% from 1999.
"The [economic] situation is not as bad as it seems," said political studies major Eva Ohrablová. "The skilled ones will find a foothold."
Like many students The Slovak Spectator spoke with, Ohrablová worked in the third sector as a volunteer during her studies. Others interned abroad to gain experience and language skills. Stanislav Fančovič from the human resource firm Take-It applauded those efforts, and said that most of Slovakia's students were aware of the importance of working part-time while in university.
"Only about 20% of Slovak college graduates I see have no practical training," he said "Getting experience is crucial for today's college students."
What the students study also determines their ease of entry into the job market. Accounting and marketing majors have the least trouble finding employment today in Slovakia, said Fančovič. Another HR expert added that the information technology (IT) and finance sectors were also producing an increasing number of jobs.
"In the last few years the number of opportunities in professions such as medicine and law have decreased," said Miroslav Danihel, director of the Research Institute of Work, Social Affairs and Family. "During the same period we have seen a substantial growth in finance and IT."
When the Class of 2001 enrolled in 1996, unemployment in Slovakia was at 12.8%. But when the Mikuláš Dzurinda government came to power in 1998, it ended a spate of costly infrastructure projects initiated by its predecessor; banks, too, entered a period of reform and conservative loan policies, while large companies began painful restructuring. The result: unemployment levels this year reached over 20%, with joblessness especially acute outside the Bratislava region.
"It's much more complicated to find work [outside the capital]," said political studies major Adam Kamenský, who has had no luck in two weeks of job hunting in his native Levice in the Nitra region. "I have been looking in newspapers, over the Internet, but it's not so easy here."
But Kamenský is certain he will be able to make a successful career in Slovakia. So is Bratislava-born Michal Šebesta, who already has a job lined up as an activist working in Roma communities. He said his generation had a responsibility to help Slovakia get out of its economic rut, and hoped other members of his generation would try to effect positive change.
"I want to make a difference here," said Šebesta. "Slovakia's economic problems are a legacy of communism. If you don't try to make a positive change then you have no right to complain."
The research institute's Danihel said it was impossible to predict when Slovakia would see a significant drop in unemployment. "No one's going to arrive and say 'abracadabra Slovakia, your unemployment problem is solved'," he said. "Optimistic estimates predict unemployment will fall to around 10% in five years, pessimistic in 10."
With such uncertain forecasts, it's no wonder the Class of 2001, for all its confidence, is full of mixed feelings. "Most of my generation is teetering on the border between optimism and pessimism," said economics major Pavol Rybár.