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Firms have conflicting tales on local job sector

Two foreign companies with a manufacturing base in Slovakia have very different tales to tell of the Slovak job market. While representatives of Kraft-Suchard-Figaro, Slovakia's leading confectioner, say that in five years the company has had few problems filling factory floors or top management positions, officials at Volkswagen's plant in Bratislava say that for roughly the same number of years the German automotive giant has been pitted against a sluggish employment sector.

Five years ago, Figaro's biggest problem was restructuring the company after Kraft-Suchard bought it in 1992, recalled Austrian-born Rudolf Stelzhammer, Figaro's financial director. "We didn't have a marketing department," Stelzhammer said, "and our sales department then was completely different.

"There were too many people in various positions whom we had to distribute in different departments," Stelzhammer continued. "We didn't fire them. Even those who had been in the same position for many years were usually able to adapt to new responsibilities." Since then Figaro has increased its number of employees by 30 percent, and is now "seeking to stabilize our staff."

Figaro's experience contrasts sharply with that of Volkswagen, which founded its plant in Bratislava the same year Figaro was bought. Volkwagen "started from zero," said Jaroslav Holeček, the manager of Volkswagen's personnel department. "Every new worker at Volkswagen was a first-time employee, based on a selection process which we still use to this day."

Volkswagen's main challenge is "the job market, which does not function normally in Slovakia," according to Holeček. "Many unproductive firms hire employees for 60 percent of our salary, but people remain at such jobs anyway, or go unemployed, stay at home, or seek work in other countries. Last year the average growth of salaries in Slovakia was 20 percent. But workers productivity did not grow. That is abnormal." Despite such frustration, VW plans to hire 700 new factory workers this year.

Holeček said that Volkswagen makes every effort to hang on to each new worker it employs. "We try to impress on every worker what it means to work for Volkswagen: a stable position, an above-average salary, and a clean and interesting workplace."

Filling management

For management positions, Holeček said Volkswagen watches carefully to assess which of its existing Slovak staff possess the right qualities, "then we offer them the job." Gradually, each of the 22 top-level management jobs at Volkswagen's Slovak plant have been turned over from Germans to Slovaks already employed by the company, Holeček said.

Figaro's recruiting technique for white-collar jobs has evolved from hiring specialized vocational-school students to tracking down both skilled and unskilled workers at local temp agencies.

"We go to these agencies with a job description," Stelzhammer said. "If they have good candidates, I speak to them personally, then introduce them to the heads of our departments, and finally to the general manager."

Assessing the job market for managers Stelzhammer believes that most vacancies can be filled by Slovaks. "I would say that most people here are qualified for the positions that we've had to fill," Stelzhammer continued. "We have a good training program for plant-manager assistants, as well as for white-collar positions like controlling and accounting."

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