KOŠICE: How does a university graduate in the Košice region, home to some of the country's highest unemployment rates, gain the essential work experience many companies now demand of new employees? According to non-profit student organisations operating in the east, the answer is to leave the country.
"It's very hard to find a job here, but there are other ways to get students practical experience to make them more attractive for employees," said Ľubomír Žiak who works for Best (Board of European Students of Technology), an international student organisation focused on preparing students for the 'real world'.
Best arranges international study programmes and internships aimed at giving students foreign work experience and a more attractive resume.
"We send Slovak students abroad and we receive some international students as well. In March we will have a course at the Košice Technical University focused on internet technologies. Last year we had a telecoms course in Bratislava. It's a meeting of students from many different countries which gives people important international experience, the opportunity to focus on a given subject, and it also looks great on your CV," he said.
"I went to Stockholm in 1998 to study nuclear physics. I met 24 different students from all over the world and got to learn about other cultures and really broaden my mind," Žiak added.
Best is just one of several organisations trying to help students in eastern Slovakia. IAESTE Slovakia and AIESEC, for example, organise international internships at foreign firms.
"We send 70 students abroad a year. It's hard to find jobs here, so we have to send our students to other countries to get experience," said IAESTE president Milan Vozár.
"The student takes a break from their studies and works in a real company in a foreign country. It gives them invaluable work experience and is a great way for them to practice their English, which is vital in today's job market," he said.
AIESEC president Tomáš Derňar added: "And, of course, living and working in a different country increases the student's cultural awareness and makes them better qualified to work at an international company."
In addition to providing students with experience, the student organisations also work directly with local companies to stage job fairs, sponsored by large international corporations, where employers meet aspiring employees. Best, IAESTE and AIESEC hold the fairs three times a year, in Bratislava, Žilina and Košice. According to Vozár, 200 university graduates attended the Žilina fair, 250 the Košice fair, while 400 were in Bratislava.
"The companies give training sessions at these events, they give presentations on organisational skills, for example, which the students would not have the opportunity of getting elsewhere.
"They are learning how to communicate in an international environment, and gaining unique knowledge in the process," said Josh Lerner, a US Peace Corps volunteer who works with Best and AIESEC.
While Vozár could not guess how many students gained jobs as a direct result of the fairs, he described the events as a "chance for companies to talk to students about future openings".
IAESTE has also created a catalogue of firms in search of employees as well as a database of unemployed students.
"When they need to find someone qualified, the companies will ask us for suggestions from the database," Vozár said.
The catalogue is published in cooperation with firms like Alcatel, Globtel, and Škoda, while Best is sponsored by American Management Systems, Proctor & Gamble and PriceWaterhouseCoopers.
"Because there are no jobs it is sometimes difficult to get companies involved," said Best's Žiak.
"The economy is bad, there is high unemployment and the national elections next year make everthing even more uncertain.
"But we consider this our challenge, it's a challenge to help students nowadays," added Derňar.
26. Nov 2001 at 0:00 | Chris Togneri