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More companies are dusting off their computers and training their workforce

Scenario 1: Imagine a large firm with a room full of the most advanced computers to date, but they're sitting in boxes gathering dust.
Scenario 2: A Slovak bank acquires a European Union Phare grant to modernize its equipment. Employees stare in awe at the slick hardware, fancy computer tables with sliding drawers for the keyboard and mouse as well as spiffy monitors displaying Microsoft software. But there's a hitch: their training to date enables them to use one percent of this new technology.


Crash course. People of all ages are receiving special training courses in computer applications to keep up with the rapid advances in the industry and as companies see the benefit of keeping their workforce up-to-date with new software and hardware.
Courtesy of Columbex


"These things have really happened. Companies have plenty of computers, but in some instances they just sit there because no one knows how to use them. I've seen it with my own eyes."

Rastislav Hroza, Computer training coordinator


Scenario 1: Imagine a large firm with a room full of the most advanced computers to date, but they're sitting in boxes gathering dust.

Scenario 2: A Slovak bank acquires a European Union Phare grant to modernize its equipment. Employees stare in awe at the slick hardware, fancy computer tables with sliding drawers for the keyboard and mouse as well as spiffy monitors displaying Microsoft software. But there's a hitch: their training to date enables them to use one percent of this new technology.

"These things have really happened," said Rastislav Hroza, the country representative for Finanzakademie Austria, who is coordinating training programs at the computer company Columbex. "I've seen it with my own eyes. Companies have plenty of computers but in some instances they just sit there because no one knows how to use them."

The advent of the computer age hit Slovakia rather late compared to Western countries, mainly because before 1989 the Iron Curtain barred outside technology. There were some crude copies of machines in the West used by Russian or Slovak engineers, but nothing for everyday business use.

The shift to a faster-paced business environment thanks to the ease and speed of computers created a vacuum of knowledge, especially for people over the age of 40. To meet this demand, training courses have sprouted up around the country. Columbex started offering training courses in Bratislava this autumn. Microsoft is also keen on training people in their products, setting up authorized companies to use the Microsoft name and teaching materials in Bratislava, Žilina, and Banská Bystrica.

At Columbex, classes consist of no more than eight people, who each have an AST Bravo computer complete with a Pentium chip, and 16 megabytes of RAM, to work on. The room is small and friendly enough to ensure personal attention from the teacher. "The most popular courses are for Microsoft Office applications, Word, Excel, Power Point, etc.," Hroza said. "Large corporations and banks have discovered it's important to spend money on sending their employees to learn the software."

Microsoft too has discovered that large firms need employee training in their software. "There is a huge demand for our courses," said Juraj Šitina, social provider sales manager for Microsoft. "Government ministries and companies like Slovnaft call us all the time for training."

Columbex's Hroza has accumulated 30 professional freelance teachers to conduct courses in either Slovak or English. The typical course depends on the company's needs but on average runs for three days from 9 am to 4 pm. Prices range from 1,350 Sk to 5,980 Sk but most run in the area of around 3,000 Sk to 4,000 Sk.

CIT, a computer training company, has Microsoft's official authorization to teach software in Bratislava. Microsoft itself doesn't train but instead provides guidance. Courses for Windows '95 and Microsoft Office last three days and can cost between 5,000 Sk and 10,000 Sk depending on the course.

Columbex has found it isn't always easy to fill these training courses. Hroza said the problem is what he calls a flawed philosophy. "People believe they can learn by trial and error," he said. "But is that really efficient, when you can learn in three days what would take you six months?"

Hroza sees Columbex's lower prices as its competitive advantage, because "we don't have to pay the large fee for Microsoft authorization," while still maintaining high quality. Microsoft's Šitina said he welcomes a competitive market. "It's good for business to have more choices," he said. "If we were the only ones offering training, we would be lazy, and the customer would not benefit."

Both Hroza and Šitina see computer training moving toward using the Internet and plan on offering courses as demand rises. It's a fight against computer illiteracy and companies are trying to cash in.

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